Archives for posts with tag: Positive Psychology

Recently I went to a happiness conference at Stanford. A lot of great speakers were present, talking about numerous topics under the umbrella of Positive Psychology.

Happiness Within Reach I think was meant to say, that happiness is in reach for every human being. As described in my earlier post Are you happy, everyone has a “happiness set point”, however, we can increase that set point by changing our attitude and thoughts (not by buying cars, houses or achieving goals.. those are proven to only temporarily raise your set point of happiness by 10%, whereas we can influence about 40% by our attitude – Dr. Martin Seligman).

Many times things or achievements, that we think will make us happy, actually don’t. This happiness conference or Positive Psychology are also not about hedonistic behavior. In fact speakers at this conference talked about topics such as forgiveness, social connectedness, being of service, self compassion and acknowledging and being able to be with the entire range of emotions. However, happy people are said to get through set backs much faster.

Emma Seppala talked about belonging and connectedness being a fundamental human need, that increases psychological well-being as well as physical health. Whether we do have a feeling of connectedness and belonging is not by chance or dependent on external factors. We can very much influence it ourselves, as it is the perceived feeling of connectedness, it is an internal state, which we can control.

Kelly McGonigal gave a talk about self compassion. We often engage in self criticism and are harder on ourselves than others. Instead of listening to the “inner critic’s” voice or the voice of judgement, which can be linked to depression, eating disorders and anxiety, she suggests to write a one-paragraph letter to yourself about an upsetting situation. Think about what you would say to a friend in your position, or what a friend would say to you in this situation. You will realize, that we are often harder on ourselves, than we would be on a friend. Try to have understanding for your distress. Make sure this letter provides you with what you need to hear to feel nurtured and soothed.

Often we feel self compassion might make us weak, lose healthy self criticism and will have us drop our standards. Yet numerous studies show mostly positive results, which I will explore in a separate post to give this subject the deserved attention.

Another favorite speaker of this conference, whose afternoon workshop I attended, too, is Rick Hansen, who talked about the negativity bias of the brain. The human brain evolved from more primitive life forms and we still have 3 parts of the brain: the reptilian brain, the mammal brain (limbic system) and the Neocortex or human part of the brain.

The Triune Brain

The reptilian brain is wired to avoid hazards. Evolutionary that made a lot of sense, as we had to avoid predators and we had to constantly be on the watch to not become someone’s prey. In today’s world there are not that many predators, no tigers in the bay area, that might be hiding behind the bush.. However, the physiological responses to stress are still the same: cortisol is released into the bloodstream to provide a quick burst of energy, enhance immunity and lower pain sensitivity.

This is a good thing in case of a real threat, that we need to run away from or fight with. In the modern world though, we cannot run away from  or fight with the stressor, as it usually is not a tiger, but work related or emotional stress.

In order to re-train our brains from a negativity bias, always on the watch for threats and pitfalls, we have to focus on the positive, that tends to typically pass through the brain like water through a sieve, while the negative sticks to help us survive (although conditions have changed, the brain’s responses have not..).

Savoring positive emotions, being grateful, feeling connected are ways to increase the focus on the positive. Negative emotions do still have their place in today’s world as well of course: anxiety alerts us to inner and outer threats, Sorrow opens the heart, Remorse helps us steer a virtuous course, anger highlights mistreatment, energizes us to handle it (Rick Hansen, Feb. 12, 2011).

These were just my personal favorites and highlights of the conference, which offered so much more, that cannot be summarized into a short post.

Hello Everyone… I know I am waaay overdue to submit another post.. I am working on it and it will be out soon. I am writing about attachment theory and what it has to do with compassion, so stay tuned….!

However, in the meantime I would like to let you know, that Stanford is offering its Choosing Happiness class again next semester! It is a great class for everyone who is interested in happiness and positive psychology. It is being taught by Laura Delizonna, who worked as a staff psychologist and was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford’s School of Medicine. She received a PhD from Boston University.

I took this class a few years ago and my blog is in part inspired by it. It is largely based on Dr. Martin Seligman’s book Authentic Happiness, but Laura has developed her own “toolkit” of happiness habits. This coming semester it will be conducted on Wednesday evenings from 7:00 – 8:50 p.m. Take charge of your own happiness! I will also post about why I think pursuing ones happiness is not selfish or narcissistic… stay tuned!!!

There seem to be some people who are always happy while others have a bleaker outlook on life. We ask ourselves “Why is that?”.

For decades psychologists have only focused on mental disorders and how to better the lives of people affected. This is now changing. In the last decade or so a new movement, Positive Psychology, was born. Dr. Martin Seligman is one of the “forefathers” and an integral part of this new branch of psychology research.

Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center

In his book Authentic Happiness Seligman talks about a Happiness Formula. He says Happiness is the sum of your Set range of happiness, the Circumstances of your life and factors under your Voluntary control.

H = S + C + V

He argues the set range of happiness of each person is genetically determined and makes up about 50%. This is based on twin studies, which I believe are referred to in the book. The circumstance in your life only make up about 10%, meaning whether you have that Ferrari or the bigger house or the yacht does only matter to a degree of 10% to your happiness.

That is, as long as basic human needs are covered of course. I’m sure you’ve heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Obviously, if you need money to put food in your mouth and a roof over your head, that percentage would probably be higher than 10%.  As soon as your basic needs are covered though, research suggests everything else matters only 10% with regards to one’s happiness. There are studies where lottery winners were interviewed, right after the win and at certain time intervals. Perceived happiness pretty much leveled back to what it was before, after the initial rush of course.

What makes all this really interesting though is not just the fact, that life’s circumstances only matter 10%, but the cool thing is that as per this formula about 40% are under our voluntary control! I find that fascinating! Now, one can argue how Seligman came up with the percentages. His arguments are based on research studies though and even if it were less than 40%: the fact, that anything is in our voluntary control with regards to how happy we are, is quite a promising statement.

Why does it matter to be happy you may ask… Well, research suggests, that happy people are more successful. Happier people are typically in a loving relationship and have more social connections. Though there is no research investigating the causal effect here yet… (are you happy, because you have many social connections or do you have them, because you are happy…??), I think striving for more happiness is good for the individual as well as for his or her surroundings, as happiness spreads among social networks.

Here is what Dr. Martin Seligman has to say about this:

” We’ve learned in 10 years that happy people are more productive at work, learn more in school, get promoted more, are more creative and are liked more. ” – Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D