Posts Tagged ‘Positive psychology’

Becoming Happy? | Ask Old Jules

July 1, 2012

Old Jules, a blogger who lives in the Texas hill country, was asked what he does to be happy.  This was his answer.

  • Acknowledging his/her happiness is his/her own responsibility.
  • Acknowledging the conditions standing in the way of happiness are his/her responsibility.
  • Acknowledging he/she mightn’t control the conditions, but does control the perspective concerning those conditions.
  • Accepting and internalizing the fact that happiness is possible.
  • Losing the love affair most of humanity has with the condition of not being happy.

Via Becoming Happy.

Click on Ask Old Jules for more questions and answers.

The psychology of honesty

July 1, 2012

Dan Ariely, professor of behavioral economics at Duke University, wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal about studies he and some other professors did on the subject of honesty.

They found that most people are mostly honest most of the time, but can be tempted to be a little bit dishonest depending on the risks, the rewards and what everybody else is doing.  No surprises there.  What I did find surprising was the following.

We took a group of 450 participants, split them into two groups and set them loose on our usual matrix task.  We asked half of them to recall the Ten Commandments and the other half to recall 10 books that they had read in high school.  Among the group who recalled the 10 books, we saw the typical widespread but moderate cheating.  But in the group that was asked to recall the Ten Commandments, we observed no cheating whatsoever.  We reran the experiment, reminding students of their schools’ honor codes instead of the Ten Commandments, and we got the same result.

We even reran the experiment on a group of self-declared atheists, asking them to swear on a Bible, and got the same no-cheating results yet again.

This experiment has obvious implications for the real world. While ethics lectures and training seem to have little to no effect on people, reminders of morality—right at the point where people are making a decision—appear to have an outsize effect on behavior.

Click on Why People Lie for the whole article.

Optimism, pessimism and delusion

September 18, 2011

The believer is happy.
The doubter is wise.
    ==Spanish proverb

Most human beings are more optimistic than the facts warrant.  Many studies show that people regard themselves as more important, more well-regarded, more talented and more virtuous than their friends and loved ones see them.  We think we are like the children in Lake Wobegon, who are all above average.

Martin Seligman, the author of Learned Optimism (1990, 1997) and Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Achieve Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment (2002), which I read a couple of years ago, thinks this is a good thing, not a bad thing.  Morbidly depressed people on average have a more accurate idea of their life situation than optimists, but they don’t do as well.  Seligman claims it is better to be optimistic and slightly unrealistic than to be pessimistic and clear-sighted.

Martin Seligman is the psychologist who developed the concept of “learned helplessness.”  His experiments showed that dogs or undergraduates who are confronted with problems for which there is no possible solution tend not only to give up, but to fail to respond to future problems.  Through further study, he concluded that the reverse is true.  Success in solving problems gives a sense of mastery that carries over in responding to future problems.

He found that optimism is a major factor in the success of insurance salesmen, West Point plebes, and athletes.  Optimists on average are more successful and pessimists less successful than their level of talent and commitment would lead you to expect, he wrote; optimists on average are less subject to disease, if only because they are more likely to maintain good health habits and follow doctors’ orders.

Pessimists on average are more subject to depression; optimists are more resilient in the fact of adversity.  I would have expected optimists to be more likely to collapse when their illusions are punctured, but Seligman said this is not the case. This is not to say that pessimists can’t be healthy or successful in life, just that the odds favor optimists.

Seligman found that optimism and pessimism come from “explanatory strategies.” Pessimists regard bad things as pervasive, permanent and personal (“this happens with everything, it happens all the time and it’s all my fault”) and good things as particular, temporary and external. Optimists are the reverse.

I was brought up to believe it better to take responsibility for failures and to refrain from boasting of successes.   If Seligman is right, the reverse is true.

People tend to have an inborn “set point” for optimism and pessimism, Seligman wrote; in his experiments, there were some people who never gave up no matter how many times they failed, and others who were defeated by the least little thing.  But it is possible to consciously change your set point, he said.

Seligman told how, while gardening, he snapped at his five-year-old daughter for some minor thing.   The daughter asked him if he had noticed that she hadn’t done so much whining lately.  Seligman acknowledged that she had. She told him that if she could stop whining, he could stop being a grouch.   The point is that it is possible to consciously change your patterns of behavior, whether you’re a young child or middle-aged adult.   Seligman said his own “set point” is mild pessimism (so is mine, I think).   He said he has used his techniques to teach himself and his children optimism.

But since pessimists tend to have a more accurate perception of reality than do optimists, the desired state is not be locked into either optimism or pessimism, but to control your mind so you can shift between optimism and mild pessimism as the situation warrants.

Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a chapter in her book Bright-Sided debunking Seligman.   His conclusions have no scientific foundation, she wrote; for every study that confirms his ideas, there are others rebutting them.  Seligman is doing well financially as a lecturer, consultant and workshop leader, but she said his claims go beyond his knowledge.  She said she confronted him with her objections in an interview, and he was such a difficult subject that she wondered if he was trying his “learned helplessness” theory on her.  I think there is truth in her objections, but I also think that, taken as a philosophy of life rather than a scientific theory, Seligman’s ideas have merit.