“Psychology is generally focused on how to relieve depression, anger and worry,” he said…“What makes life worth living,” he said, “is much more than the absence of the negative.”
To Dr. Seligman, the most effective long-term strategy for happiness is to actively cultivate well-being.
In his 2012 book, “Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being,” he explored how well-being consists not merely of feeling happy (an emotion that can be fleeting) but of experiencing a sense of contentment in the knowledge that your life is flourishing and has meaning beyond your own pleasure.
Interesting review/profile of Adam Phillips in the New Yorker (paywalled):
Phillips, Britain’s foremost psychoanalytic writer, dislikes the modern notion that we should all be out there fulfilling our potential. In his new book, he argues that, instead of feeling that we should have a better life, we should just live, as gratifyingly as possible, the life we have. Otherwise, we are setting ourselves up for bitterness. What makes us think that we could have been a contender? Yet, in the dark of night, we do think this, and grieve that it wasn’t possible. “And what was not possible all too easily becomes the story of our lives,” Phillips writes. “Our lived lives might become a protracted mourning for, or an endless trauma about, the lives we were unable to live.”
Since you can’t read the entire thing online, here are some fully available Phillips alternatives: The NYT review of Missing Out. The interview mentioned there. And a book excerpt (via NPR). Satisfied?
[P]lacebo effects in medicine are just one example of how our expectations can bend reality. For instance, brain scans reveal that expectations about a wine’s quality (based on price or a critic’s review) actually change the level of activity in the brain’s reward centers when a person takes a sip. Highly-trained weight lifters can out-do their personal bests when they believe they’ve taken a performance booster. People who wear taller, better looking avatars in virtual reality behave in ways that taller and better looking people tend to act. For example, they approach better-looking potential dates and they are more aggressive in negotiations, both in the virtual world and after the headgear is removed. In lab and field experiments, people who stand in powerful poses (think Superman) for a minute or two, have similar hormonal changes to people who are given actual power and authority over another person, and they exhibit the same sorts of behavioral changes.
In the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert surveys a crop of “unparenting” books that take aim at parental overproviding and overprotecting:
Madeline Levine, a psychologist who lives outside San Francisco, specializes in treating young adults. In “Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success” (HarperCollins), she argues that we do too much for our kids because we overestimate our influence. “Never before have parents been so (mistakenly) convinced that their every move has a ripple effect into their child’s future success,” she writes. Paradoxically, Levine maintains, by working so hard to help our kids we end up holding them back.
“Most parents today were brought up in a culture that put a strong emphasis on being special,” she observes. “Being special takes hard work and can’t be trusted to children. Hence the exhausting cycle of constantly monitoring their work and performance, which in turn makes children feel less competent and confident, so that they need even more oversight.”
Canadian researchers found those with low self-esteem actually felt worse after repeating positive statements about themselves.
They said phrases such as “I am a lovable person” only helped people with high self-esteem.
The study appears in the journal Psychological Science…They found that, paradoxically, those with low self-esteem were in a better mood when they were allowed to have negative thoughts than when they were asked to focus exclusively on affirmative thoughts…”Repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, such as individuals with high self-esteem, but backfire for the very people who need them the most.”
And it was all so perfectly clear. No wonder I had found that woman so offensive. Sometimes things feel that bad.
Sometimes you just feel like sh!t.
And telling yourself you feel terrific and wearing a brave smile and refusing to give in to “negative thinking” is not only inaccurate -dishonest- but it can make you feel worse.
Which makes perfect sense. Because if you want to feel better, you need to pause and ask yourself, better than what?
Better than how you feel at this moment, perhaps.
But in order to feel better than you feel at this moment, you need to identify how you feel, exactly.
It’s like this: if California represents your desire to “feel better,” you won’t be able to get there -no matter how many maps you have- unless you know where are starting from.
Finally, trained researchers in white lab coats with clipboards and cages filled with monkeys had demonstrated in a proper clinical setting what I myself had learned several years earlier in a rehab setting: affirmations are bullsh!t.
Sliding into cohabitation wouldn’t be a problem if sliding out were as easy. But it isn’t. Too often, young adults enter into what they imagine will be low-cost, low-risk living situations only to find themselves unable to get out months, even years, later. It’s like signing up for a credit card with 0 percent interest. At the end of 12 months when the interest goes up to 23 percent you feel stuck because your balance is too high to pay off. In fact, cohabitation can be exactly like that. In behavioral economics, it’s called consumer lock-in.
Jonah Lehrer’s new book, Imagine, excerpted in the Wall Street Journal:
[C]reativity is not magic, and there’s no such thing as a creative type. Creativity is not a trait that we inherit in our genes or a blessing bestowed by the angels. It’s a skill. Anyone can learn to be creative and to get better at it. New research is shedding light on what allows people to develop world-changing products and to solve the toughest problems. A surprisingly concrete set of lessons has emerged about what creativity is and how to spark it in ourselves and our work.
Although we live in an age that worships focus—we are always forcing ourselves to concentrate, chugging caffeine—this approach can inhibit the imagination. We might be focused, but we’re probably focused on the wrong answer.
And this is why relaxation helps: It isn’t until we’re soothed in the shower or distracted by the stand-up comic that we’re able to turn the spotlight of attention inward, eavesdropping on all those random associations unfolding in the far reaches of the brain’s right hemisphere. When we need an insight, those associations are often the source of the answer.
[Update: Being too creative–book pulled.]
NYT previews The Power of Habit–a look at the latest thinking about how habits are formed (and how that knowledge helps sell diapers and Fabreze).
The process within our brains that creates habits is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain ﬁgure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop — cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward — becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become neurologically intertwined until a sense of craving emerges. What’s unique about cues and rewards, however, is how subtle they can be. Neurological studies like the ones in Graybiel’s lab have revealed that some cues span just milliseconds. And rewards can range from the obvious (like the sugar rush that a morning doughnut habit provides) to the infinitesimal (like the barely noticeable — but measurable — sense of relief the brain experiences after successfully navigating the driveway). Most cues and rewards, in fact, happen so quickly and are so slight that we are hardly aware of them at all. But our neural systems notice and use them to build automatic behaviors…
From the Recommended Reading page, a couple of titles worth highlighting: The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety and The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Depression, a matching pair of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) workbooks.
Instead of trying to take on and eliminate difficult thoughts and feelings, ACT encourages accepting them and getting on with what’s most important to you. Identifying what’s most important to you is a big component of the approach.
From the recommended reading list, Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh, a short, simple call to mindfulness, personal and political. In the book, some nice suggestions about mindfulness practice, including these lines to silently try out during mindfulness meditation:
Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Worth a shot for the many who find themselves distracted when attempting silent focus on breathing. There’s also this suggestion for developing mindfulness regarding uncomfortable emotion (in this case anger):
Breathing in, I know that anger is here.
Breathing out, I know that the anger is me.
Breathing in, I know that anger is unpleasant.
Breathing out, I know this feeling will pass.
Breathing in, I am calm.
Breathing out, I am strong enough to take care of this anger.
Substitute “anxiety” or “sadness” or whatever you’re going through for “anger.” Too much to remember? Just try “Breathing in, I am _________. Breathing out, I am ___________.” You may find just slowing down and acknowledging what you’re feeling (and not wanting to feel) helps more than any distraction.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s mindfulness is Buddhist mindfulness–for a secularized (and, for better or worse, less eco/non-violence-focused) substitute, try Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are.
Breathing in, you’re done reading this post.