1. Understanding the Nature of Happiness

    April 14, 2016

    Understanding the Nature of Happiness

    Throughout human history, few things have been debated by philosophers so often and so deeply as the nature of happiness. Is it an illusion, or a state of feeling content, either through letting go of anxiety or through attaining a state of satisfaction with one’s life? Is it simply a feeling of pleasure? What does it mean, exactly, to be happy?

    Over the past few decades, those who study happiness have favoured the ranking of one’s overall “life satisfaction” (through questions such as, “On a scale of one to ten, how satisfied with your life are you right now?”) as indicative of one’s relative happiness— a hypothesis which has formed the basis of many of the happiness studies you’ve likely read about. Happiness has therefore been treated as something of a judgment, an equation people process based on observations of their lives.

    This view, logical as it may seem at first glance, may be somewhat reductive, however. Psychologists have discovered there is a curious aspect to human satisfaction that possibly makes it a poor indicator of that elusive quality we call happiness—almost everyone, even those living in the most miserable of conditions (such as the slums of Calcutta), claims to be fairly satisfied with their lives overall. In a recent study of impoverished Egyptians, for example, researchers asked the study’s participants to explain why they were satisfied, and generally received responses following a similar central theme: “One day is good and the other one is bad; whoever accepts the least lives.”

    Of course, the above statement does not exactly dance with ebullient joy; instead, it seems as though the poor Egyptians had long ago accepted the fact that they likely could do little to improve their lot in life, so had decided to accept it and remain as content as possible regardless. Doing so was an act of resignation, but by now it has become so practiced for many of these people that they rank their overall satisfaction with life as being pretty good.

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  2. Choosing a Value Driven Life

    September 27, 2014

    Choosing a Value Driven Life There is a powerful attribute housed within all of us: we know it as self-confidence. We all have it. Some to a greater or lesser degree than others. If you look closely enough, you can see it at work in the decisions or choices we make.

    Lacking Self Confidence

    Depending on self-confidence, people can lead their lives in one of three ways. You can see self-confidence at work in those who live their lives without doubt and questioning. Then there are others for whom life is filled with an abundance of self-doubt. They seem never to be fully comfortable with any decision. That leaves a third group, a majority those living day to day, often in doubt while at other times very clear about what they should do or how they should behave.

    Although this first group is smaller in number it is a force to be reckoned with. Its membership is made up of those with high levels of self-assurance. So much so that they can seem at odds with others; arrogant, rigid, always right. Within this group you will encounter those driven by purely altruistic motives and a handful who are diagnosable as sociopaths.

    In our second group are those people who never seem quite sure about their interactions with the world. More often than not they are very capable of making good decisions, although they falter as though they haven’t a clue about their decisions.

    Which brings us to the last group. These are people who, for a multitude of reasons, seldom are confident in their own decisions. Life is experienced as many forks in the road and they are there without a map. Much of their time spent is spent in self-doubt, wondering if the choices they have made are right or wrong. Questioning the past and asking, how would the outcome be different if only I had chosen differently?

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  3. Are you making the best of your talents and strengths?

    July 9, 2014

    Are you making the best of your talents and strengths?

    The father of the Positive Psychology movement, Martin Seligman, talks about character strengths as opposed to pathologies. He even designed a classification system similar to the famous DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) but simply focusing on those personality traits that make you function best.

    Why do that? Simply put, we are more than just the sum of our parts. We have many talents and strengths going for us and we may achieve success in our lives if we use them well. Please understand that success is relative for each person, it’s not just professional and financial success, but it can also be personal, related to family or your community. Would you say that someone who is known for its volunteer work in the neighbor’s kitchen soup is not successful at that? Or that a single mom that keeps the family going is not successful? You don’t have to invent the wheel again to be successful in your daily life. Or even acknowledged for it.

    But do we know our own talents?

    What are best at? Are you a great communicator, are you a leader, and are you well-organized? If you can’t answer this question yourself just yet, ask your friends and family what they believe to be your strengths and talents. If their answers are inconclusive, you can try to do Dr. Seligman’s questionnaire at https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/ and find out what are your character and signature strengths.

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  4. A Life of Contentment: The Truth about Happiness

    July 6, 2014

    A Life of Contentment: The Truth about Happiness

     

    In horse racing there is something called a trifecta. To win a trifecta, the bettor must not only pick the horses finishing in the top three places in a race, but the exact finishing order of each horse. In this article we will lay out our own trifecta. Ours has nothing to do with horse racing though. Rather, it has to do with picking a winning strategy for a life well lived.

    To get started I’m going to ask you to suspend a commonly held belief. That belief is this; “all I need to enjoy a good life is to be happy.” Nonsense! As you will learn, happiness is an overrated temporary response to the alignment of certain events in your life. Happiness is not a permanent state or condition. If it were meant to be permanent we would have no need for the word sad.

    That said, let me assure you that I have nothing against being happy. I enjoy happiness whenever or wherever it may occur. Pursuit of happiness is an important factor in human evolution. My only concern is that in our pursuit of happiness we often overlook those events, people, and situations that may or may not be conducive to our being “happy,” but never-the-less are important. If I may, allow me to substitute here the word contentment for happiness.

    As I will explain, contentment captures the importance of balance in our lives. I like to call this place, a life lived in balance, the good life. Which brings us back to the trifecta. Our race track: the Good Life; the heat: Psychology and mental health; the entrants: in gate #1 is Spirituality, gate #2 holds Meaning of Life; gate #3 Positive Psychology. The rest of the field is made up of a rag-tag assortment of lesser important names. Let’s look at the top three.

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  5. Positive Psychology: Psychology or Mythology?

    June 13, 2014

    Positive Psychology: Psychology or Mythology?

    Other than posing an interesting question, what is meant by this title? In order to answer that question we need to take a step or two back, back to understanding what are the key differences are between psychology, mythology AND positive psychology.

    Defining Terms:

    I could suggest that you define the three terms identified above. That would be well and good except our definitions may not match – that would not be so good. So, for the sake of clarity, let’s go with the following:

    1. Psychology: Let’s keep it simple, psychology is a scientific discipline that studies mental processes and behaviors.

    2. Mythology: The story accepted and believed in different cultures explaining how or why humans act in certain ways.

    3. Positive Psychology: The application of psychological principles and practices that emphasize how to achieve a “good life” for oneself.

    Why are these important?

    Myths:

    Among the newer areas of psychology is positive psychology. The very use of the word “positive” has strong Euro-American cultural mythologies attached to it. Most particular this can be found in the work of Norman Vincent Peale, “The Art of Positive Thinking” and similar self-help approaches of making all things better by simply thinking positive. These are myths.

    I refer to this myth as thought replacement. It even works for some. The difficulty with this approach is that it remains a superficial solution. Serious work to address your preferred choices in your mental processes and behaviors requires an attitude with a deeper effect. Achieving the good life, that is, a life of contentment calls for something more.

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  6. How to Become an Optimist

    June 11, 2014

    How to Become an Optimist

    Positive Psychology research has brought to light research on the positive effects of being an optimistic. But it has yet to show us how we can be optimistic. Is optimism a life’s choice or is it a matter of personality? Can anyone be an optimistic or is it just for a few? And is not being an optimist a necessarily bad thing?

    Let’s hope we can answer some of these questions and more.

    What is Optimism?

    In the first place, it’s probably necessary to clarify what is optimism and who can qualify as an optimist. Optimism is not an unrealistic view of reality. It’s a positive mind-set where people choose to focus on what can go right instead of what can go wrong. Nonetheless, optimists can still see the bad things in a situation, but choose to ignore it.

    It is a personality trait but it is also a life attitude. Our as someone explained it to me one day, it’s all about the glasses you wear to analyze reality – are they programmed to see the good or the bad?

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  7. The Ideal Self vs. the Possible Self

    June 5, 2014

    The Ideal Self vs. the Possible Self

    Many of us are no strangers to frustration. We can’t always have what we want and the world is not always fair. But there are some of us who lead a life of frustration and dissatisfaction, that look back and all we see is what we couldn’t achieve. This is obviously neither the good life nor the happy and meaningful life we wish to achieve that Positive Psychology talks about.

    What is it about the way we perceive and attribute meaning to our lives that determines a life of frustration versus a fulfilling one?

    I came across at a conference on aging and learning throughout the later life, an interesting idea one of the speakers pointed out: the ideal self vs the possible self as a source of frustration in later life. As an example, the speaker talked about the plans we all make for our retirement: that we are going to start a new project, do things we’ve never done before, travel places and we postpone everything until we get to the stage when we’re finally retired and do nothing. And all those plans just seem washed away and life pointless or a waste of time. Why didn’t I do things sooner, why didn’t I take that chance?

    That idea keep me wondering. Why are we sometimes so frustrated with our lives? Why can’t we feel happy with what we have or make the necessary changes to achieve a possible goal? And maybe, it’s this idea of an ideal self that is keeping us away from achieving a possible one.

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  8. The Emotional Rainbow

    June 5, 2014

    The Emotional Rainbow

    by Daniela Aneis

    One of the most common critiques and one of the most wrong ones is that the Positive Psychology movement ignores negative emotions to simply focus on positive emotions. This is quite untrue. What Positive Psychology wishes to do is take the focus out of negative emotions to take a better look at what positive emotions have to offer in terms of human development.

    But what we really do need is to learn how to cope with the emotional rainbow that our nature has to offers us. The negative and the positive emotions. They are not mutually exclusive but rather complementary.

    Good or bad emotions?

    Actually there is no such thing as good or bad emotions, only the necessary ones. Or at least that’s what I tell my patients. Emotions are centered in the most primitive part of our brains (yes, reasoning came after in evolutionary terms) and yet it is one of the most crucial parts of our brain. Can you imagine calling yourself human and not being able to feel anything?

    Remember the “fight-or-flight” mechanism, so necessary to our survival as a species? We don’t need to assess in a jungle if that big animal is to eat or is planning on eating you, but our emotions still serve their purpose in our “social survival”. It’s still a jungle out there, only the rules are not as simple as they used to be.

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  9. An Author’s Experiences Give Her Life Greater Meaning

    April 24, 2014

    An Author’s Experiences Give Her Life Greater Meaning

    by Sue Chehrenegar

     

    As a children’s writer, Emily Lockhart can relate to the thinking of children. When interviewed by a reporter from the Los Angeles Times, she shared memories of her own childhood, of a time when she did not feel pushed to take life seriously. Later, like so many of the youth that pass-through the age of adolescence, Lockhart experienced an awareness of increased freedoms. For a time, she relished those new-found freedoms. Then, as she grew older, she began to take view life more seriously.

    Lockhart’s altered pattern of thinking copied that of many younger adults. It provoked thoughts that focused on the meaning of life. Her mind had become attuned to such thoughts by the age of 17, when she realized that people did not see her as someone who was capable of challenging their own thoughts and actions. Consequently, she felt decidedly underrated and wanted to add some meaningfulness to her existence.

    At that point, Lockhart began to lose interest in those things that had been providing her with intermittent periods of joy. Such actions included the application of make-up, while staring into a mirror, the refusal to abide by specific codes of conduct and the willingness to give-in to less-than-virtuous behavior. Lockhart realized that by choosing to pursue such actions, she allowed adults to view her as someone who is a tad silly, maybe even close to incompetent. Hence, she wanted to fill her life with greater substance/more meaning.

    At that point, the acquisition of added substance became her goal, one that she went-after while in college and graduate school. Eventually, she did get people to give serious consideration to what she had to say. Moreover, as that change took-place, she found that she was treated with a greater amount of respect. Still, she did not appreciate the degree to which she had to deal with on-going competition from others in academia, in order to retain the level of respect that she then enjoyed.

    Lockhart’s observations pushed re-think the wisdom of copying the pattern that had been adopted by her associates. She decided to have-a-try at the craft of writing for children. She even managed to get some of her writing published. However, it was not long before she discovered that within academia, a writer of children’s literature did not enjoy an appreciable amount of status.

    She found that within the highest echelons of academia, people tend to be serious on an almost continual basis. Their attention seldom turns to subjects that do not fall-in-line with the stated ideals of the most respected members of academia. Yet Lockhart did not view that approach to life as one that she could use, in order to make her existence more meaningful. That was why she chose to follow her own path, as opposed to the one that had been presented to her those with whom she had been interacting.

    She chose to retain what she viewed as the most meaningful aspect of her life, and she did that by seeking to excel in a discipline that gave her great pleasure. That was the craft that required development of writing skills, particularly the skills of a children’s author. Contrary to any advice she may have received from others, Lockhart’s choice did not deprive her life of meaning. She has authored books that young people read and loved.

    As a loved children’s writer, Lockhart did not allow herself to compose material that sounded a bit like a sermon. Still, she realized that she could get young minds thinking. Hence, she managed to write books that helped younger readers to begin to think more seriously about their own pathway into the future.

    Lockhart does not recommend that every child follow the pathway that she has chosen. Still, she realizes that, at some point, every child becomes a teenager and then a mature and thinking adult. She hopes to get younger readers thinking seriously about how each of them can go-about living a more meaningful life.

     

    Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/floringorgan/4694122800

     

     

     

     


  10. How Can You Live Your Life in the Flow?

    April 21, 2014

    How Can You Live Your Life in the Flow?

    by Daniela Aneis

    Flow is a very important concept in Positive Psychology. It was conceptualized in 1975 by researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and it is an important part of the optimal experience. But what exactly is flow? Flow is a state of mind in which we are fully focused on the task at hands and time and space seem irrelevant and we feel we can perform the task and it represents a challenge we can face. The pleasure of performing such task derives from an intrinsic motivation, we do it simply because we enjoy it. Imagine this: you love gardening. Whenever you have the time, you go to your garden to do things. You could spend a whole afternoon there and only realize it’s been a couple of hours when it gets dark or someone calls you for dinner. Ever happened to you?

    Why is it important to feel flow?

    People who experience flow often report higher levels of subjective well-being. Whether it is at work, at home, during their leisure time, with friends and family. You may not experience happiness during the experience of flow itself because it would be a distraction, but studies have shown that after performing a flow activity individuals report higher levels of well-being, sense of accomplishment, and purpose and meaning.

    Just so you know, flow experiences have been reported in reading a book as being more engaging than watching TV. So you might want to think about reducing your TV watching hours and devote your time to other activities.

    Positive psychologists advocate that a full life is a life where we are truly engaged, aware, and fully involved in our lives. And isn’t a flow an involving activity? So flow can be a really important part of finding your “happiness”.

    How can I identify a flow experience?

    According to Csikszentmihalyi’s years of research the experience of flow is quite universal and it has distinct characteristics from other types of experiences. But first we should, as the author did, distinguish the flow experience from the popular “go with the flow”. Going with the flow refers to a spontaneous attitude of letting things happen and not contradict the events in place. On the other hand, flow experiences are chosen (by us) and involve using our skills, concentration and perseverance. We choose to do sports instead of working around the house, we choose to do volunteer work instead of going out partying with friends. Not that these experiences are mutually exclusive, just serve as examples.

    So what makes a flow experience? Csikszentmihalyi (1999) says that two important characteristics must be present:

    1)      People should know what to do moment by moment while performing the task

    2)      The abilities of that person to act match the opportunities for action

    Breaking it down, when experiencing a flow activity you should know what you’re doing and what to do next and have instant feedback. But what makes this a challenging task is that you may have the ability but it still represents a form of challenge for you. If it’s too easy you’ll find it boring, if it’s too hard you’ll soon want to give up.

    Creative activities are easy to spot as flow experiences. Take for instance painters, writers, musicians. Don’t you see them fully engaged in what they’re doing taking the pleasure out of what they’re doing?

    How can I introduce more flow into my life?

    A few tips according to Csikszentmihalyi (1997) from his book on “Finding Flow”:

    • The activity has a set of goals and requires certain actions. Take chess, poker, and any kind of sport. The rules help you set your mind to a flow state because there is no need to question them.
    • You’re fully involved in the challenge. It’s not too hard to overcome but just enough to make you push harder and learn new things. Can you think of anything like that?

    Can you think of anything in your life that represents a flow experience? Just so you know, adults often report more flow experiences at work than during their leisure time. That has to do with the clear set of rules and goals at work. Happiness can be found at work as well.

     

    Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/james_sickmind/5448335436