Prescription for a happy 2012: http://101headandneckcancer.blogspot.com/2012/01/daily-prescription-for-2012.html
To all our readers and supporters, a hearty thank you!
"Resolve to make at least one person happy every
day, and then in ten years you may have made three thousand, six hundred and
fifty persons happy, or brightened a small town by your contribution to the fund
of general enjoyment.
Texas research specialist Dr. Kristin Neff discussed in a recent radio interview how crucial self-compassion is to our well-being. Self-compassion is very strongly associated with mental health, and it is also strongly linked to less depression, less anxiety, more happiness, more optimism, and more motivation to learn and try out new things. It's a very powerful way of relating to yourself.
Dr. Neff explains in her new book about self-compassion that it is a way of feeling good about yourself that doesn't require judging yourself as good or bad or comparing yourself to others. It just involves relating to yourself kindly. Self-compassion is treating yourself like a friend or a loved one – with care and concern.
Self-compassion has also been shown to be pivotal in optimizing weight loss and correcting bad eating habits in self-critical individuals. Psycho-therapist Jean Fain, author of The Self-Compassion Diet, suggests that we've got it all backward: "The best way to lose weight and look your best is to stop dieting and start with loving who you are." Self-compassion is a kinder, gentler, more effective way to lose weight than deprivation followed by self-criticism when you fail to stick to your eating plan. The ‘kind diet’ approach works well for those people who have little or no compassion for themselves as self-compassion, rather than self-criticism, promotes self acceptance, sticking to a healthy diet and making lasting healthy lifestyle changes for healthier living.
Dieters are really hard on themselves. Being hard on yourself isn't the way to lose weight. In fact, it may do more harm than good to your self esteem and confidence. Dieters who self-criticize all day long, telling themselves nasty things such as: “I am fat. I am out of control” are setting themselves up for over-eating. Fain contends that there are actually four roots to sustainable weight managent. Self-compassion is one of them, and it ties all the roots together. The four roots are: self-compassion, mindful eating, hypnosis (visualisation), and social support.
Self-compassion starts with turning your inner critic around and bringing into your mind a compassionate response when you've made a less-than-stellar food choice or reverted back to disordered eating. It helps to remember that ‘getting a handle’on eating issues is a journey, not the jaunt many dieters are determined to make it. The number of times we feel compassion toward ourselves during the day is crucial, since studies have shown that even a modest dose of self-compassion can help prevent the destructive self-criticism and negative feelings that can fuel overeating.
Whenever you notice that you’re giving yourself a hard time about your size or shape, think self-kind thoughts. Instead of saying “I can’t lose weight” or calling yourself ‘fat,’ ‘disgusting’ and other mean names, tell yourself what you’d tell a good friend: ‘Nobody’s perfect. If you stop striving for perfection and start accepting yourself as you are, it’s only natural to lose weight with a sensible, sustainable eating plan.’
Think about what troubles you most, and ask your inner self for insight. Ask, and you shall not only receive - you'll soak up what's so hard to come by in everyday life: unconditional love.
Practice self-hypnosis or relaxing visualisation or mindfulness meditation: Learn to hypnotize yourself, which is essentially focusing your attention, deepening your breathing, and then opening your mind to new ideas and experiences. You can feed yourself positive suggestions that make sense to you, like, ‘More and more I am craving nutritious and delicious food.’ Or, ‘Every day and every way I am appreciating the natural sweetness of whole foods.’ Use whatever seems motivating and important to you. Give yourself a self-suggestion and repeat it to yourself in a relaxed and focused state.
Self-hypnosis is an effective way of turning around haphazard eating, and for changing the ways you relate to food if they're less than healthy. When we focus both consciously and subconsciously on goals of healthy eating and weight loss, this constant awareness becomes our ally in adopting healthy attitudes and behaviours that foster a healthy lifestyle.
Practice Mindful Eating. According to Jan Chozen Bays we've forgotten how to be present as we eat. She writes in "The Mindful Eating Blog" that we often eat mindlessly. Multitasking is rewarded in our society. We chomp away happily in front of the computer screen or while watching TV - without even really tasting what we eat – and without keeping track of how much or what we actually consume.
Mindful eating involves paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking, both inside and outside the body. Paying attention to the colours, smells, textures, flavours, temperatures, and even the sounds (crunch!) of our food. Paying attention to the experience of the body. Noting where in the body we feel hunger. Where do we feel satisfaction? What does half-full feel like, or three quarters full?
When you've eaten the first portion, pause and ask your stomach, "How full are you? Do you need more? How much more?" Adjust your second portions according to the information your stomach gives you.
Also pay attention to your mind. While avoiding judgement or criticism, watch when your mind gets distracted, pulling away from full attention to what we are eating or drinking. Notice how eating affects your mood and how emotions like anxiety influence your eating.
The old habits of eating and not paying attention are not easy to change. Don't try to make drastic changes. Lasting change takes time, and is built on many small changes. To get to a healthy, sustainable weight, you have no choice but to start where you are.
Social Support. Don’t underestimate the importance of a supportive environment and positive interaction with a community of friends in achieving your weight loss goals. To up the odds of finding your healthy, sustainable weight, seek good, supportive company. Support can be positive or negative. Positive support is a conscious and generous act committed by caring individuals. Negative support is that thing some people do when they discourage healthy change, like when someone buys you the very snack you've sworn off.
Ten Other Effective Strategies to assist with weight loss:
· Keeping a food diary or journaling,
· weighing yourself only once per week,
· adopting healthy breathing practices,
· practicing daily positive affirmations such as: ‘May I learn
to accept myself as I am, at least in this moment’,
· praying, practicing daily meditation or visualisation,
· setting up a food log,
· becoming more aware of self-criticism,
· using writing for clarity on what the real issues are
concerning your weight or unhealthy eating habits,
· setting realistic and reasonable weight-related goals, and
· if you practice to generally accentuate the positive and
decrease, if not eliminate, the negative, you'll be in good
Mary Anne Wallace touches on another useful strategy in her book - "Mindful Eating, Mindful Life": don’t think in terms of weight loss. It is more about one’s relationship to food and eating. If you think of losing weight you trigger ‘freak out’ deprivation mode, which scrambles both one’s physiology and psychology into survival mode - exactly what needs to be avoided if one wishes to lose weight.
One of the things most people want to know is how soon one will see results with this new approach to weight loss. The benefits of treating oneself with more self-compassion are almost instantaneous. Whoever follows it, will start feeling calmer, wiser, and more hopeful. And in that state, weight loss is so much more possible. If your life is calm, and you have some time to devote to yourself, you will start reaping the benefits within days. Not every person who does this will lose X number of kilos in X number of weeks, but most people benefit by practicing self-compassion across a range of aspects of their lives, which is often what is needed to provide mental resilience to face life’s challenges head-on, without reverting to self-harming eating behaviours to cope with stress and other adversities life hands us. It is an effective way to braoden and build our inner resources.
The advantages of self-compassion over traditional diet regimens is that it is all about making changes on the inside that will support a permanent healthier lifestyle. A self-loathing person is not likely to make healthier choices from day-to-day. Learning new ways of thinking and feeling about one’s self are bound to create new and better habits. Many diets and other weight-loss plans revolve around deprivation and neglect which trigger negative emotions. You’re supposed to stick to the plan no matter what. If you’re starving, keep eating the tiny portions. If you’re exhausted, keep moving. ‘No pain, no gain’. If you go on holiday, keep counting calories, carbohydrates and feel bad when you mess up. And while you’re at it, pack all your diet food and put it in your luggage. This is not compassionate and it’s not fun. Try instead to treat yourself with some self-compassion, so that you are more likely to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full, rest when you’re tired, and move when you feel energized. And when you do that, you will lose weight naturally.
1. Neff, K.D.(2011).Self-Compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. New York: William Morrow.
2. Fain, J. (2011). The Self-Compassion Diet: A Step-by-Step Program to Lose Weight with Loving-Kindness. Boulder Colorado: Sounds True.
3. Chozen Bays, J. (2009). Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food.
4. Wallace, M. (2010). Mindful Eating, Mindful Life. Inkwater Press: Portland Oregon.
To find out more about Self-Compassion and Weight Loss, or if you are interested in motivational support for your weight loss programme and to improve your emotional resilience, visit http//:positivepsyc.com, call The Positive Psychology Foundation on 011 465 1255 or send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
This discussion series, inspired by Martin Seligman’s work, did not aim to simply duplicate content, but rather to explore a wider context for PERMA with more practical application. Today we look at the last component of PERMA – Accomplishment – and how it can aid to making our lives happier, more joyful.
Here are several ways that Accomplishment contributes to well-being:
The Gift that Keeps on Giving
What struck me most about Accomplishment is that it is quite literally the gift that you can give to yourself that keeps on giving. Often we find ourselves at the end of the day or the week and we know that time has passed, but we have little notion where most of it went, which is sad indeed, because this represents pieces of our precious life that went missing without record or recognition. If however we devoted our time to a specific task or goal, the time is easier to recall, to remember and to re-play in your mind. You can enjoy and savor the rewards of achieving a goal over and over again. The first time the gift of accomplishment makes you feel is good because you achieve a goal you set out to do, and thereafter, your recollection or memory of that happy moment can be replayed and enjoyed for the rest of your life. It is like having a cookie jar filled with good feelings next to you: just dip in, pull out a memory of an accomplishment, and hey presto! You will feel good without having done a thing, based purely on invoking a memory of past accomplishment.
This is because the words “accomplishment” and “achievement” are often retrospective, as people look back at their lives or the immediate past at something already completed.
One of the easiest ways to achieve your life goals is to look to the people who have already helped you. Thank each one personally and privately. Expand beyond the basic thank you by telling them why they are important to you and how their help in the past helped you to succeed at something. Keep these people in your corner by showing your gratitude and they will likely help you again. University of Michigan psychologist Christopher Peterson wrote in his book, A Primer in Positive Psychology, “In our experience with many dozens of gratitude letters…they ‘work’ 100% of the time in the sense that the recipient is moved, often to tears, and the sender is gratified as well.”
In a sense gratitude is a gift too – also giving more than once. Gratitude researcher Robert Emmons recently reviewed the growing evidence that feelings of gratitude improve the quality of our lives. By being grateful, we feel good, possibly even happy, and the person we are thanking also experiences positive emotion. Double value! Emmons found that people who “wrote up to five things for which they were grateful or thankful” on a weekly basis “exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week.” Seligman and his colleagues also discovered that when people took a few minutes each evening to write down “three good things” that happened to them during the day, their happiness increased and their depressive symptoms decreased. So gratitude it seems, helps with positive rumination – this ‘how to’ hint for ditching depression is a keeper!
Emmons found in another study that people who feel gratitude are more likely to help others. He wrote, “Gratitude leads not only to feeling good, but also to doing good.” It seems therefore as if gratitude transcends depression and self focus and allows us to move beyond preoccupation with ourselves and our problems. It allows us to reach out to help others.
Savoring Accomplishments Leads to Strengths Identification
Positive Psychologist David Pollay observes that when you reflect on the most significant accomplishments in your life, it is easy to spot which of your top strengths helped you achieve those successes. This makes it possible for you to see a pattern in your life: you will discover that many of your greatest achievements were made possible by engaging your top strengths. Accomplishment helps you to spot the underlying patterns of your personal strengths and how they have contributed to your successes in life. This is dynamite insight about yourself and your abilities - yours to freely use for the next challenge and goal to be accomplished.
Appreciate Your Own Accomplishments so Others can Too
Strengths expert Kathryn Britton points out that we sometimes make our accomplishments look easy. This may be because for us they are easy - by virtue of leveraging our signature strengths. Or maybe we are just being modest. Point is, others - such as our partners, peers, bosses and spouses won’t readily recognize our accomplishments if we don’t. If the way we work makes it look easy it does not always lead to appreciation. If you appreciate your own contribution and recognize how it is different from those made by others you will develop a habit of appreciating and savoring your own accomplishments leading to some great joy-in-the-present equity. When someone else is acknowledged as a hero for solving a difficult problem, perhaps you can think of times when you prevented problems from occurring by planning ahead. Take notes. Keep track of satisfied customers. Write about it in your journal. Take photographs to savor later. Collect evidence of ways you have influenced important outcomes. It is always easier to illustrate your value with specific instances that show how you have made things work than to show how your actions prevented problems from occuring.
Projected Appreciation as a Tool for Goal Achievement
Projected Accomplishment is an excellent energy source for achieving future goals. Yeager writes that people who scrapbook their future goals with illustrations, photos, articles, give themselves a little bit of 'Achievement-savoring-in-advance'. This may help to energize the person to go ahead and better achieve their goals. Similarly, people who scrapbook about past accomplishments give themselves permission to explore and examine their remembered pleasures in their journey.
Accomplishment is also about keeping something in store for the times when in-the-moment positivity is difficult to find. One cannot help wondering how many times folks like Nelson Mandela or Viktor Frankl would have had to dip into either past or future savoring to help them get through difficult times or to keep their hopes alive for the future. It is indeed a broadening experience – to borrow the term form Barbara Frederickson – to be able to Accomplish and later to reflect on that Accomplishment again in order to be able to fuel goal achievement or to broaden one's resilience against adversity even more.
Accomplishment and reflecting on Accomplishmnet builds positivity, it strengthens resilience and it gives us an idea of what we are good at. If we reflect on past or future accomplishments we can easily experience gratitude which spins off a whole cycle of positivity for ourselves and others. Achievement lasts forever and it cannot be taken away – not even by death. It is worth celebrating daily, for our own wellbeing as well as for those around us.
1. Seligman, M. E. P. (2004), Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.
2. Gratitude and Giving Will Lead to Your Success. David J. Pollay. Positive Psychology News.
3. Positive Core and Strengths at Work. Kathryn Britton. Positive Psychology News.
4. Make Your Goals Come Alive through Imagery. J M Yeager. Positive Psychology News.
5. Peterson, C., (2006). A Primer in Positive Psychology New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Martin Seligman defines the meaningful life as knowing what your highest strengths are and “using your signature strengths and virtues in the service of something much larger than you are.” He comments that authentic happiness is meant “as a preface to the meaningful life and that while it is possible take drugs to generate the effects of positive emotion and pleasure through pharmacology, it is not possible to synthesize the positive effects of being in the flow or of experiencing meaning.”1)
A happy life is made up of three different kinds of lives: the first is the pleasant life, which consists of having as many of the positive emotions as you can, and learning the skills that amplify them. Fortunately positive emotion (hedonics) as we often see it portrayed in the Hollywood context is not where it ends. Pleasure in itself seems empty and philosophers from Aristotle through Seneca through Wittgenstein considered the notion of pleasure as vulgar.
The good life is the second kind of life, and at it's root is knowing what you are good at – your signature strengths – and then re-crafting your life to use more of these strengths in all aspects of your life, which leads to Flow. When you deploy your strengths in various parts of your life, such as work, home, romance, you end up spending a lot of time in Flow. Thomas Jefferson and Aristotle talked about "eudaemonia", the good life, as the pursuit of happiness2). They didn’t mean smiling and giggling, they were talking about about the pleasures of contemplation and the pleasures of good conversation. It is the place where time stops, where you feel completely at home, where negative emotions like self-consciousness is blocked and where you're one with what you are doing.
To review so far, there is the pleasant or life — having as many of the pleasures as you can and the learning the skills to expand them — and the good life — knowing what your highest strengths are and re-crafting everything you do to use them as much as possible as often as possible. And then there's a third form of happiness that we humans pursue, the pursuit of meaning. There is one thing we know about meaning: that meaning consists in attachment to something bigger than you are. The self is not a very good site for attaching meaning, and the larger the thing that you can credibly attach yourself to, the more meaning you find.
Meaning is knowing what your highest strengths are - and deploying those in the service of something you believe is larger than you are. There's no shortcut to that. That's what life is about. There will likely be a pharmacology of pleasure, and there may be a pharmacology of positive emotion generally, but it's unlikely there'll be an interesting pharmacology of flow. And as Seligman said, it's impossible that there'll be a pharmacology of meaning.
Although people tend to think of meaning as having a singular source, Emmons (1997) states, “Empirically, however, people’s lives usually draw meaning from multiple sources, including family and love, work, religion, and various personal projects.”
Roy Baumeister and Kathleen Vohs (2005, p. 610) associate the quest for meaning in life with the following needs: 3)
1. Purpose: Present events draw meaning from their connection to future outcomes — objective goals and subjective fulfilment.
2. Values, which can justify certain courses of action.
3. Efficacy, the belief that one can make a difference.
4. Self-worth and reasons for believing that one is a good and worthy person apparently are what results from emersion in our natural talents or what we excel at.
This type of engagement brings personal joy and imbues meaning to one’s life. It even makes it possible for us to work towards the greater good, to transcend our personal limitations and to get enmeshed in creating resilience for our communities and those close to us. There is a classification of six universal virtues which break down in to 24 strengths: first, a wisdom and knowledge cluster; second, a courage cluster; third, virtues like love and humanity; fourth, a justice cluster; fifth a temperance, moderation cluster; and sixth a spirituality, transcendence cluster. These virtues and their subordinate strengths represent the best in us. We all have different strengths, and if we engage ourselves in our personal areas of strength, we create meaning – both in our own lives and also beyond. It becomes virtually impossible to be engaged in one’s area of personal strengths without creating meaningful output - both for personal and wider consumption. Finding out what we are good at is not only our birthright, but will in most instances result in greater life satisfaction – if we then focus on spending more time on the areas where we are best at, doing what makes us feel good. Knowing what our personal strengths are allows us to find our niche in this world, the place where we can be recognised for our strengths, where we have enough talent not only to use for our own good, but even plenty to spare and to share with others.
People who live a life of paucity or scarcity have most likely not discovered their personal strengths, or know what these are, but choose not to live their lives by practicing them. The following list of strengths is provided to provide in broad strokes a context for these strengths that makes each of us as individuals great at what we do.
Strengths of Wisdom and Knowledge:
· Creativity (originality, Ingenuity)
· Curiosity (interest, novelty-seeking, openness to experience)
· Open-Mindedness (judgement, critical thinking)
· Love of learning
· Perspective (wisdom)
Strengths of Courage:
· Persistence (perseverance, industriousness)
· Integrity (authenticity, honesty)
· Vitality (zest, enthusiasm, vigour, energy)
Strengths of Humanity
· Kindness (generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, altruistic love, ‘niceness’)
· Social intelligence (emotional intelligence, personal intelligence)
Strengths of Justice
· Citizenship (social responsibility, loyalty, teamwork)
Strengths of Temperance
· Forgiveness and mercy
· Humility and modesty
· Self-regulation (self-control)
Strengths of Transcendence
· Appreciation of beauty and excellence (awe, wonder, elevation)
· Hope (optimism, future-mindedness, future orientation)
· Humour (playfulness)
· Spirituality (religiousness, faith, purpose) 4)
Also see http://uat.viacharacter.org/VIACHARACTERPROFILE/GetYourProfile/tabid/62/language/en-US/Default.aspx. Note: readers are urged to take the free test at the above site to identify their personal strengths. Please contact us if you want to find out more about how to use your strengths to your best advantage in work, relationships and day to day living.
The emphasis in the VIA Character Strengths and Virtues above is on the strengths of individuals. There is not the traditional ‘weaknesses’ which have to be ‘improved’ on or the euphemistic ’areas of development’ we have had to listen to through gritted teeth in our performance reviews. The logic is simply that if you spend most of your time doing what you are good at then you will probably be more successful than if you spent most of your time trying to get better at things for which you clearly have little natural ability or talent. And no more need to feel bad about what you are not good at, or to feel compelled to improve in an area that would take you years to barely equal average. And if you are doing what you are good at, you will be happy at what you are doing, you can expectto receive a good wage for doing it and you may well find that it feels less like work and more like play. You will be fast at what you do because it comes naturally – so you will be able to finish tasks on or ahead of schedule, thus giving you a little extra margin of free time if you want to get away from work to have more quality time with your family, or if you want to give some of your time and talent to a charity or some other form of the greater good.
And there are other bonuses to being involved or ‘in Flow’ – that place where you are so immersed in what you are doing that you hardly hear the radio, or the telephone ringing, where you are creative, focussed on the task, living in the moment, experiencing no negativity and being extremely productive: You do not have to combat some of the most serious ills of our time – the ruminations or negative self talk that we can so easily fall victim to when living a life without purpose or meaning: boredom, restlessness, feelings of inadequacy. Swaby remarks that we are all addicts: watching TV, the computer, technology, the internet, food, coffee and even chocolate have become objects of our addiction.
“It is hard to find something that we can enjoy without the risk of becoming addicted. One might even wonder if we are all destined to become addicts? The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University polled 1,987 teenagers and 504 parents. It found that teen substance abuse has three predictors: high stress, too much spending money, and frequent boredom. Bored teenagers, it found, are 50% more likely to smoke, drink and use illegal drugs. The studies highlight that at the core of addiction is a search for significant experiences, an escape from boredom and a longing for the rush that comes from consuming the substance of choice. Addiction, it seems, is a pseudo-search for meaning. It is a replacement for having little or no compelling purpose for your life. One either finds personal meaning, or they will find themselves swept into a compulsive search for meaning-in-a-bottle. Indeed, are we all not addicted to meaning?”
Swaby argues that when we have a compelling purpose we become filled with meaning, energy, persistence and zeal for life. And when we lack this type of purpose, we feel empty, we suffer from depression, anxiety, lack of focus and distractibility. Addicts describe feeling drawn to the excitement of the high. We are all drawn to the 'high' that we receive from a fulfilling life purpose. Boredom, restlessness and anxious feelings can drive any of us to an addiction of busy-ness. 5)
Steven Winn, who writes for the San Francisco Chronicle says, "We are all terrified of boredom." "Boredom," he writes, "arrives with a spectrum of feelings shading from guilt and distress to bafflement and pleasure. It poses fundamental questions about our own identities and the connections we make, or don't, with the world around us." Each of us must choose: a compelling purpose, or a compulsive practice.
Tara Miller says that if life is a question of contentment, then the answer will be defined by what we do - our life's meaning. Our contentment to find passion in our work, our family, our love, can falter if we are constantly engaged in tasks that don’t bring out the best in us.
Being content with life is difficult, especially when you feel that life, love, work, and relationships are treating you unfairly. Having personal meaning, and finding worth in one's life and activities will lead to contentment. Personal meaning brings the individual from responding with greed, anger, or resentment, and allows for contentment and joy in the task at hand. Contentment is not hard to attain, yet if one's own personal meaning does not drive one's life, one is robbed of true contentment.
If one can find joy in the task for the tasks’ sake, if it is possible to enjoy the journey as much as the destination, then meaning and purpose cannot be far way. When one can transcend the execution of the task and enjoy it for it’s own sake, or deliver one’s own talents and gifts in the service of something greater, then we approach serving in a vocation – a calling. This elevated state of living one’s highest worth is possible and potentially in the grasp of everyone who reads this blog entry. It starts with finding your strengths and claiming your purpose.
1. Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Authentic happiness. New York: Free PressSeligman, M. (2004).
2. Eudaomonia, The good life. Edge conversation with Martin Seligman about meaning in life.
3. Baumeister, R. (1991). Meanings of life. New York: Guilford Press.
4. Christopher Petersen and Martin E.P. Seligman. Character Strengths and Virtues – A handbook and Classification. New York. Oxford University Press. (2004)
5. Addicted to Meaning Sean M. Swaby Edmonton, Alberta, Canada http://www.ibolt.com
6. Where has my Contentment Gone?Tara D. Miller Edmonton, Alberta, Canada http://www.meaning.ca/living/MOL_articles.htm
Relationships - the R in PERMA.
Most of us have always known that relationships - sharing life with loved ones, such as partners, friends, family, children, grandchildren and even pets – is good for us. What has changed is that over the past decade research has consistently found that supportive social connections are fundamental to feeling good. And in a recent UK opinion poll, 73% of people mentioned relationships as the only or one of their definitions of happiness .
Our previous blogs about pathways to happiness focused on positive thoughts and experiences within ourselves. But relationships take the focus outward. Ed Diener’s research tells us that positive relationships contribute to positive experiences. Positive traits like love, kindness, fairness, and social intelligence make it possible for us to make other people happy, and as Christopher Petersen said of positive psychology: “Other people matter"”. Seligman even says that happy people are extremely social.
Other people exist in many different relationships to us, such as friends, lovers, siblings, colleagues, parents, etcetera - and now we are going to take a closer look at generating mutually beneficial positive experiences for some of these relationships.
Spread around a little relationship happiness by positively greeting friends or colleagues with a friendly smile or handshake – so says John Yeager about the power of positive saluting. He believes that a positive greeting involves three pathways to happiness: pleasure, engagement and meaning.
When we greet someone sincerely, it is usually enjoyable for both parties and brings a smile to one’s face. Because one is communicating verbally, visually and kinesthetically it can be quite engaging – providing a sense of flow. If we greet someone or say goodbye to them, use their name, shake their hand or pat their shoulder, we create a pleasant physical response in ourselves and in the person being greeted. Using all our senses in this interaction can be very engaging or flow-like and bring us into the present moment. And an authentic interchange says: “You matter.” Most of us want others to listen to us, to be taken seriously and to matter to others. Whenever we use someone’s name, it makes them experience all of these positive emotions. Our awareness of this fact in turn makes us feel good about ourselves.
Sulynn says that the conscious choice to “be nice” to others can help us thrive even when we find ourselves in trouble. She urges us to stay away from gossip, envy, ill feelings, the need to be right, concern about what others might think about us, and generally self-righteousness. We should smile often and laugh from the belly and find the joy in any interpersonal encounter.
Sulynn further suggests that we should practice this habit of being nice to others because it can sometimes be difficult to adopt new habits, but fortunately for us, as Baumeiste writes, a new habit (positive living) grows stronger - like a muscle - the more we use it. When we experience positive emotions, we send out positive vibes and attract/inspire the same around us. Try it. Smile at EVERYone and watch reactions. Practice random acts of kindness, and then sit back and enjoy the positive glow.
Petersen says there are no happy hermits. The well known study on the very happiest people showed that they all had strong, supportive relationships. Try savoring a great glass of wine or your favorite music on your own – which can be a very pleasant and engaging experience. And then try sharing savoring it with your partner. Take the time to describe to each other every sensory input and feeling it creates and take turns listening to one another. As Amy Donovan says in her article about relationships, savoring-for-two is double the pleasure. Not only does one enjoy the exercise of savoring, but the shared experience results in a sense of closeness with one’s partner and in positive emotions all round. Positive emotions have been shown to broaden and build, meaning that experiencing positive emotions is linked to improving our thought-action repertoire, attention, creativity, and durable personal resources. It seems like a very good reason to plan these positive savoring experiences with a partner, doesn’t it? And it demonstrates how people in strong supportive relationships end up being such happy people.
Marelisa Fabrega reminds us of “elevation”, a term coined by Jonathan Haidt. This puts a bit of a different spin on things, as it is all about the pleasant physical sensation that comes from witnessing goodness in others. Haidt found that it evokes in us a desire to become a better person, or to lead a better life. UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner is a pioneer in the study of elevation and he explains that it’s characterized by a warm, open, pleasant feeling, “liquid warmth in the chest and a lump in the throat.” Or we might say that seeing people being nice gives us as a warm and fuzzy feeling. One can feel elevation if you listen to something profound like Martin Luther King’s speech “I Have a Dream”, and it can also be triggered by simple things like watching a stranger helping another stranger.
In Haidt’s article he includes an anecdote from Thomas Jefferson’s life. In 1771 Jefferson’s friend Robert Skipwith wrote to him asking for advice on what books to buy for his library. Jefferson sent back a long list of titles in history, philosophy, and natural science. He also included some works of fiction and he justified this advice by pointing to the beneficial emotional effects of great fiction:
“[E]very thing is useful which contributes to fix us in the principles and practice of virtue. When any … act of charity or of gratitude, for instance, is presented either to our sight or imagination, we are deeply impressed with its beauty and feel a strong desire in ourselves of doing charitable and grateful acts also ... [I ask whether] the fidelity of Nelson, and generosity of Blandford in Marmontel do not dilate [the reader's] breast, and elevate his sentiments as much as any similar incident which real history can furnish? Does he not in fact feel himself a better man while reading them, and privately covenant to copy the fair example?”
It seems that self transcending emotions really make us want to be better people. Other examples of self-transcending emotions include:
So it seems despite John-Paul Sartre’s protestations that “Hell is other People,” it appears that the evidence leans firmly towards Christopher Peterson’s summary of positive psychology that “Other People Matter” (2006). Peterson also came up with the following interesting insights about people engaging positively with people:
On the topic of family, Sue Palmer writes in her new bookthat happiness these days can easily be mistaken for being represented by ‘Stuff’ . Sue says of today’s kids that “what they need is Presence, not presents.” Spending time playing with our kids can be one of the most rewarding activities in a day – for both parents and kids.
Virginia Lewis and Dianne Borders found sexual satisfaction to be the second strongest predictor of life satisfaction for single middle-aged professional women, after job satisfaction. No doubt that although this particular study did not include men, the results for them would be similar. Sex seems both to contribute to and reflect how happy we are in a relationship. A mismatch in levels of sexual desire within a couple is associated with poorer relationships (Blais, Sabourin, Boucher and Valler). And heterosexual women’s feelings of love, trust, passion, intimacy and overall relationship satisfaction have been found to correlate with the frequency and quality of sex (Costa and Brody).
Ryan and DecIi came up with some interesting self affirming aspects of a quality sex life:
1. Positive sex happens when both partners are interested and actively choose what to do between the sheets. Rather than enacting scripts, by consciously being aware and able to communicate their own authentic desires their need for autonomywas fulfilled.
2. Partners who felt they knew what they were doing in the bedroom and were able to develop their sensual repertoire fulfilled the basic need for competence.
3. They also felt intimate, desired, loved and respected, fulfilling the need to relate to others.
Sexual expression is an opportunity to experience psychological growth and well-being. There are studies showing that arousal and orgasm also have positive and vital physiological effects, and that it helps us to advance and embrace “the good life” in our relationships.
We often use the word ‘love’ to describe how we feel about the people with whom we share relationships. Cohen thinks that love is probably essential to the human condition. We all need attachments to others; we all need to love and be loved. If not, asks Cohen, why would people write love songs?
Love comes in many different forms – although romantic love is the one we think about when we hear the love songs – falling head over heels, exciting rush of emotions. Jon Haidt explains that in romantic love there are in fact two stages. The first, the one that Hollywood usually celebrates is called Passionate Love. This is the love where we nuzzle, we gaze into each others’ eyes, and we “fall” into love. The second stage of romantic love is called Companionate Love. After you have known someone for a while, once you know his or her quirks, once you have decided to join your lives together, then you are companions, and your love is companionate in nature.
Then there is also the love for our parents, children and friends - all profound kinds of love. Stephen Post gives us different classifications of love. He says that the types of love include:
Oxytocin, a ‘feel good’ hormone is released when we hug one another, and mirror neurons fire when we are communicating with the ones we love. Although there is underlying science, what matters is how love makes us feel. It is about how the way my mother’s hug feels, how that look from him makes my heart beat quicken. We can give it words, we can give it science, but at the end of the day, what we feel borders on the magical, because it happens uniquely to us, in only that rarified situation. When we feel it deep in our hearts and our brains, our need to translate it into words and science recedes into the background. Maybe that’s why we have love songs. They allow us to feel it, to confirm that love does exists, and that people definitely love each other. Other people matter to us.
Next time we look at the M in PERMA – Meaning.
1. The Science of happiness By Mike Rudin BBC Series producer, The Happiness Formula
2. Test your happiness – BBC program.Copyright by Professor Ed Diener, University of Illinois
3. Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press
4. Diener, E., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2002). Very happy people. Psychological Science, 13, 81-84.
5. I’ve Got A Name – The Power of Positive Salutation by John Yeager (Positive Psychology News Daily)
6. How do you Propose we Share Positive Psychology with Strangers? by Sulynn (Positive Psychology News Daily)
7. Baumeister, R. F., Gailliot, M., DeWall, C. N., Oaten, M. (In press) Self-Regulation and Personality: How Interventions Increase Regulatory Success, and How Depletion Moderates the Effects of Traits on Behavior. Journal of Personality
8. Positive Psychology: Party of Two by Amy Donovan(Positive Psychology News Daily)
9. Pleasant Emotions: Elevation and Other Self-Transcending Emotions by Marelisa Fabrega web article
10. Keltner, D., & Haidt, J. (1999). Social functions of emotions at multiple levels of analysis. Cognition and Emotion, 13 (5), 505-522
11. Vaillant, GE (2002), Aging Well, Boston, Little Brown
12. Lucy Ryan:Advice from the Tribesman: Too Simple for the World?
13. Warr, P., & Payne, R.(1982). Experiences of strain and pleasure among British adults. Social Science and Medicine, 16, 1691-1697
14. Sue Palmer: Detoxing Childhood, and 21st Century Boys: how modern life can drive them off the rails, and how we can get them back on track
15. Lewis, V.G., Borders, D. L. (1995). Life satisfaction of single middle-aged professional women. Journal of Counseling and Development, Vol. 74, 93 – 100
16. Blais, M.R., Sabourin, S., Boucher, C., Vallerand, R. J. (1990). Toward a motivational model of couple happiness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 59, 1021 – 1031.
17. Costa, R. M., Brody, S. (2007). Women’s relationship quality is associated with specifically penile – vaginal intercourse orgasm and frequency. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, Vol. 21, 319 – 327
18. Deci, Edward L. (2006). Richard M. Ryan. ed. The Handbook of Self-Determination Research. University of Rochester Press
19. What is Love Anyway? By Aren Cohen (Positive Psychology News Daily)
20. Haidt, J. (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. New York: Basic Books.
21. Post, S. G. (2003). Unlimited Love: Altruism, Compassion, and Service. Philadelpha, PA: Templeton Foundation Press.
Today we are looking at the second pathway to a happy life - Engagement, also known as 'being in the Zone,' or 'experiencing Flow'. Even if it all sounds a bit strange, I am sure you have been there.
Discovering the enjoyment of life ‘In The Zone’ – immersion in activities that bring total focus, creativity and personal fulfillment is one of the greatest contributors to authentic happiness. When one is in The Zone, time passes without our notice, we have almost no sense of what is happening around us, we don't hear the phone ringing, we are so busy having fun that we don't want it to stop... You know it - we have all been there at some time, and probably not often enough. When people are immersed in doing something they love doing, benefits such as good health, longevity and fulfilling personal relationships become much more readily attainable.
People in the Zone are normally busy doing something that they are really good at. So if you ever wanted a clue about what you are best at, think back of the times you have found yourself in the Zone and try to remember what you were busy doing at the time.
When one is so totally immersed in an activity there is not much room for feeling anything. Which can be a good thing. It is a good way to banish the blues or bad thoughts and events out of your mind. People in the Zone exhibit extraordinary creativity and problem solving abilities, as well as focus far beyond their normal levels.
And another thing about being in the Zone is that when you eventually come out of it, you may feel tired or drained, but you will be happy. The act of reflecting back on the intense immersion is a joy-promoting activity of itself.
But being engaged offers another dimension of happiness too – it is the dimension of being in the present. It is not possible to feel sad or negative when your entire awareness is focused on the present. The bad thing about focusing on the past is that that is the place where some of the bad things happened which could influence our current thoughts. So hanging around in the past isn’t a clever thing to do.
But neither is hanging around in the future. Because then you are in dreamer mode – where you think about what must be, but you are not making it happen. But in the present, you ARE MAKING IT HAPPEN. It is the most powerful place to be and the only part of your life that is almost completely under your control. It is difficult to justify spending much time in any dimension other than the one where you are in charge. And it is a conscious choice to live in the present. It is a way in which you can take responsibility for your thoughts.
So what to do if you are really trying hard to focus on the present but the shadows of the past are trying to pull you back all the time? Or the dreams of the future are seducing you to follow them into a place where you won’t manage to accomplish anything? The easiest answer is to engage all or as many of your senses as you can to bring you into the present.
Waking up your senses is a sure-fire way to land yourself in the present. The act of engaging with a flower is an awesome example of getting yourself into the present. You can look at the flower and appreciate it’s colour by using your visual sense. Enjoying the perfume of the flower and perhaps placing a drop of it’s sweet nectar on your tongue will wake up your sense of smell and taste. You may be lucky enough to find a bee buzzing around the flower to engage your sense of hearing and if you brush your fingers over the petals or the thorns your tactile sense will come alive. Savoring such an engaging experience is yet another way of engaging the event long after it has passed, but getting the same positive emotion benefits as if it were happening right now.
If you are a passionate nature lover, art lover, music lover, dancer, speed freak, athlete or artist of any description, then engaging your senses will be one of the ways to take you from an ordinary moment to an engaged moment.
Caring human touch is responsible for release of oxytocin – also known as the cuddle hormone, which promotes human bonding. Bonding is an activity that makes you feel good about being in the present, and it is uncommon to feel any emotion but joy in the moment of human bonding.
It has been an invigorating experience sharing the benefits of living an engaged life in the present moment with you. I reluctantly withdraw myself from the Zone I occupied while writing this post, but I am so pleased to reflect on having been able to share this really cool information with you.
Next time we will unpack the R in PERMA, Relationships. I don't know too much about research in relationships and positive emotion right now, so I have to go do some homework for our next post.
Be present, be in the Zone for as many hours per day as you can manage!
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