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Posts Tagged ‘positive psychology’

Rejoice For No Reason!

March 20, 2012 Leave a comment

One of the greatest stumbling blocks to happiness is that we often feel that there must be a tangible reason for us to BE happy.  But there is an innate difference between “being happy” and “being happy about” something. They are two completely and significantly different states of being.

Being happy about something is an ephemeral state of being which comes, not from within us but, from an external source. For example, we can be happy because we earned a raise at work or because our significant other paid us a compliment or because of a specific achievement.  And yet each of these examples carries with it the ability to completely disappear and then where are we?

Even worse, these things don’t need to actually disappear from our lives in order for them to lose their happiness-inducing potential. Psychologists call it “habituation” or “sensory adaptation”. This is the tendency for the human brain to become used to something’s presence and to no longer take note of it in the same way; somewhat like your ability to smell your perfume when you first put it on and not notice it at all an hour later.  That is sensory adaptation or habituation at work.  If our brains did not filter out old information, we would become inundated by incoming sensation.

When we rely on external sources for our state of happiness, it is never a secure or dependable feeling. Learning to look deeper within ourselves in order to simply BE happy offers us greater potential longevity for our feelings of happiness.

The Dali Lama encourages us to, “Be happy without reason.  If you are happy with a reason, that reason may be taken away from you, and you’ll lose your joy. If you are happy without reason, nobody can take your happiness away.”

So, I encourage you to use this day well!  Be like a child! Find your Joy in the Journey rather than in the destination and not matter what your age, gender or life situation …

Rejoice for no reason!

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Valentine’s Day ~ Happiness & Well-Being

February 10, 2012 Leave a comment

“To get the full value of a joy, you must have somebody to divide it with.”

Mark Twain.

Valentine’s Day…a day to celebrate the importance of relationships in our lives…or just another “Hallmark Holiday”?  Originally the christianization of a pagan fertility celebration, St. Valentine’s Day has now come to be the day when we recognize the most important relationships in our lives with cards, candy and other demonstrations of caring.

More and more research is pointing towards the importance of social relationships to human beings’ health, happiness and even to our longevity.

Harry Harlow  (click on his name to watch a video of this experiement) was instrumental in showing how important the attachment of infants to their mothers is to their later ability to successfully parent their own offspring.  Subsequent research points out that secure children are more apt to actively explore and interact with their worlds and are also more likely to be engaged and successful in the classroom.

The research of Ed Diener and Martin Seligman,(click on his name to watch a TED video by Dr. Seligman)  whose work in positive psychology is becoming very popular, links people’s happiness to the quality of their long term relationships.  And numerous other studies show that many types of social connectedness  may also be important to health, well-being and longevity.  People who are regular members of religious institutions and those who volunteer regularly enjoy a heightened sense of well-being.  It is speculated that a sense of social support and belonging are the keys to why these types of activities lead to positive emotions and their attendant benefits.

This idea of relationship has been explored in the area of film lately by producer, studio president and independent film maker, Lindsey Doran.  During her exploration of what really makes people love a movie, Ms. Doran has employed Dr. Seligman’s 5 pillars of well-being: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment (PERMA) and has found some really surprising truths about what constitutes a popular film.

We apparently don’t need a happy ending to love a movie; we don’t necessarily need the protagonist to overcome all obstacles.  Surprisingly, what we care about most is the relationships that are developed throughout the movie.  Accomplishment is great but if there is no relationship in which to share it, we don’t engage the same way that we do when we see people share their victories within the bonds of strong relationships.

Matt Damon’s triumph in the recent hit, We Bought a Zoo, would not have had the same emotional impact for us had he not reconnected with his emotionally estranged son, played by Colin Ford.

When an almost 70 year-old Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins) sets a land speed record in The World’s Fastest Indian, we are thrilled for him but it is in watching the people who have come to love him, cheer him on in spite of almost insurmountable odds that we fully engage with him and become an actual part of his epic quest.

It is these relationships which feed us in the real world, in the literary world and in the world of film.  They may be our keys to:  better health, a heightened sense of well-being and to actually extending the number of years that we have to enjoy them.

So while February 14 is the customary celebration of St. Valentine’s Day, perhaps we would do well to internalize Mr. Twain’s sentiment, that joy is greatest when shared with someone close to us.  Perhpas we can decide to celebrate Valentine’s Day more often than just on February 14th and with more of the people who are important to us!

References:

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper & Row, 1990

Diener, E., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2002). Very happy people. Psychological Science, 13 (1), 81-84.

Harlow, H.F. Early social deprivation and later behavior in the monkey. Pp. 154-173 in: Unfinished tasks in the behavioral sciences (A.Abrams, H.H. Gurner & J.E.P. Tomal, eds.) Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins. 1964.

Koenig, H.G., Cohen, J. (2002) The Link Between Religion and Health:Psychoneuroimmunology and the Faith Factor. Oxford University Press;London.

McKinney, William T. (2003). Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection. American Journal of Psychiatry, 160, 2254-2255.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

January 9, 2012 Leave a comment

At the stroke of midnight (or as shortly afterwards as possible) each January 1st we endeavor to be the first to wish our family and friends, “Happy New Year!”  This year I encourage each of us to really think about what this means and to really mean what you say when you use this greeting.

When people are asked what they wish most for, whether it is for themselves or for their children, they usually reply, “I just want (them) to be happy!”  Amazingly enough, the wishes are not for a large flatscreen TV, new model car, or any other material possession.  The wish is for something that seems to be completely intangible and yet… is it really?

Recent empirical research shows that happiness has multiple physical and psychological benefits for people, such as:

  • Optimistic people are much less likely to die of heart attacks than pessimists, controlling for all known physical risk factors (Giltay et al., 2004).
  •  People who are happy have stronger immune systems and suffer fewer and/or less severe illnesses than do people who are not as happy (Cohen et al., 2006).
  •   The pursuit of meaning and engagement are much more predictive of life satisfaction than the pursuit of pleasure (Peterson et al., 2005).
  • Economically flourishing corporate teams have a ratio of at least 2.9:1 of positive statements to negative statements in business meetings, whereas stagnating teams have a much lower ratio; flourishing marriages, however, require a ratio of at least 5:1 (Gottman & Levenson, 1999; Fredrickson & Losada, 2005).
  • Happy teenagers go on to earn substantially more income 15 years later than less happy teenagers, equating for income, grades, and other obvious factors (Diener et al., 2002).
  •  How people celebrate good events that happen to their spouse is a better predictor of future love and commitment than how they respond to bad events (Gable et al., 2004).

So, this year, when you wish someone, “Happy New Year,”  I hope these are some of the things that you are wishing for them!!!

For upcoming happiness groups and/or resilience training in the Tarpon Springs, Florida area, please email jean@stillwaterscounselingcenter dot com (.com).

The Psychology of Thanksgiving Eating!!!

October 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Thanksgiving, it is one of the few days a year when we give ourselves permission to absolutely gorge ourselves with an amount of food that we would never consider consuming on an average day! Those of us trying to successfully manage our weight, know the advice and the tricks that are suggested to limit the intake of calories and none of them really works very well.

So let’s look at some studies on the psychology of eating, undereating and overeating and see if we can learn something from this scientific research that might allow us to better manage our environment, companions and ambiance settings and thus decrease our intake of calories.

Probably the two easiest strategies are to shrink your stomach during the week prior to Thanksgiving and to wear tight clothing the day of the feast. Dr. Joseph Risser, director of clinical research at Lindora Medical Clinics, states that by limiting the volume of food that is ingested at each meal, one can successfully shrink the stomach in about 3 days. By eating smaller meals more frequently during the days leading up to Thanksgiving, you will feel fuller faster because of the stomach’s smaller condition. Wearing tight-fitting clothes will have the same effect of making you more mindful of the amount you have eaten, according to several Weight Watchers coaches. It is immediate feedback, which can really help!

Some other strategies are to: eat breakfast and limit liquid intake the day of the feast. Research by Health Management Resources in Boston, reveals that people who eat breakfast actually consume fewer calories over a whole day than do those who skip the first meal of the day. By eating a light, yet sensible breakfast, you won’t come to the table starving and may be able to manage the temptations more successfully.

And contrary to some popular advice, which says to fill up on liquids before and during meals, research shows that parched rats tend to refuse their chow, while well-hydrated rats eat as they would normally. In humans studies, the evidence is similar with people tending to eat less when mildly dehydrated.

Some other research shows that how you set and clear the table influences the amount eaten! Using smaller serving utensils and dinner plates and tall, thin glasses tends to result in people eating and drinking less. Even people who are calorie conscious and knowledgeable, tend to serve themselves 31% more when using larger plates and if they are given large serving utensils, they end up serving themselves 51% more!

When it comes to glasses of caloric beverages, people will tend to consume 74% more from a short, squat glass than from a tall, thin one as the brain perceives the amounts to be equal! Perhaps this is because the tall, thin glasses almost always get turned over!

Studies also show that the way a table is cleared influences the amount eaten, as an uncleared table reminds eaters of how much has been consumed while a tidy, constantly cleared table is perceived as an invitation to start over! This can add up to almost a 30% difference in unconscious, calorie consumption.

Some other findings have to do with the numbers and types of people with whom you dine. Eat alone and you will eat less. Research shows that when you eat with one other person, the average food consumption rises by 35% and when you eat with a group of people, you tend to consume almost 3 times the calories that you do when dining solo! This is especially true if you are comfortable with the people with whom you are eating, as most people tend to eat less when they are in an uncomfortable scenario.

Lastly, there is the ambiance to contend with. Low lights and restful colors encourage us to linger and eat more (think McDonald’s vs. your favorite French restaurant).

So when all is said and done, we should fast for a few days this week, limit our liquid intake, eat Thanksgiving dinner alone or with people we don’t like, in a brightly lit, uncomfortable setting using small plates, serving utensils and tall, skinny glasses. Sounds almost as silly as all the other Thanksgiving Day eating advice, doesn’t it?

For health and happiness, my advice is: work out regularly before the holiday, eat sensibly beforehand, relax and have a great Thanksgiving dinner while you enjoy the people around you and then get back to the gym as soon afterwards as possible! Enjoy!

What is a Life Worth?

    “FLOW” is a state of being which is demonstrated when we are totally caught up in what we are doing…time seems to vanish…we are engaged, energetic and vital, our concentration is effortless and all-consuming!

It is manifested when we use our personal strengths in response to situations wherein the perfect balance between challenge and self-efficacy exists: the task at hand is difficult but we beleive that we have what it takes to successfully complete it.

Interestingly most people experience more “FLOW” at work than at home!  Generally “FLOW” occurs when a person is doing his or her favorite activity;creating music, gardening, writing, reading, playing a sportl. It also found in many types of social settings where people are engaged in a common effort, think volunteering time and energy in pursuit of goal which benefits another.  But thereally interesting thing is that  people rarely report experiencing “FLOW” in passive leisure-type activities, such as relaxing or watching TV.

Here is a great video from TED.com in which Dr.iMihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of the book entitled, “FLOW”, discusses the topic.  Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXIeFJCqsPs&feature=related

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