A recent study out of Columbia University and CUNY (Midlarsky et al 2018) investigated how simply visualizing helping another would affect one’s mood and emotions among participants aged 60 and older.
Results showed that visualizing helping a needy stranger led to more positive affect than visualizing being social with friends or walking down the street (the control condition).
However, differences were found among the participants such that those who reported high levels of social responsibility demonstrated significantly greater positive affect than those who didn’t. Those who self-reported less of an altruistic orientation to life actually experienced an increase in negative emotions when imagining helping others.
Clearly, individuals vary. Not every one values social responsibility and altruism. But for those who do, the research shows that prosocial behavior (even the imagining of it) will make you feel positive emotions and experience greater overall mental health.
Here are a few inspirational stories to check out:
Starbucks to Pay Employees to Spend Half of Work Hours Volunteering for Charities
Strangers Carry Injured Woman Down the Mountain When She Couldn’t Continue Hike
This teacher on a plane talked about her low-income students. Passengers overheard and gave her more than $500 in cash.
Language creates reality. The words we hear influence how we feel about ourselves and others. Researchers at the University of Chicago (Williams et al, 2018) examined this by investigating how listening to loving-kindness-based language affected participants’ perception of distress.
Participants listened to recordings of statements designed to cultivate positive, compassionate feelings (such as “May you be truly happy; May you love yourself completely just the way you are”). Those in the control group listened to statements about health and security (e.g., “May you live your life in safety; May you be truly well and free of illness”). Both groups then viewed images of painful stimuli and rated how much pain might be experienced.
The study examined whether the statements affected participants’ sensitivity to their own imagined pain and the pain of others. The results showed that those who listened to the loving-kindness statements perceived greater pain for others (demonstrating higher interpersonal sensitivity). Interestingly, those in the control group who listened to the security-based language rated imagined self-pain higher.
Exposing ourselves to loving-kindness statements may result in decreased sensitivity to our own pain. It may also help us better attune to the distress of others. The words we choose on the inside can really help us experience compassion and connection with those on the outside.
The research firm, Great Place to Work, and People magazine recently reviewed surveys from 4.5 million employees across 1,000 US businesses to determine companies that “care” the most, in terms of their culture, employee benefits, and philanthropic treatment of the community and the environment.
Check out the top ten companies at:
It’s very easy to take our lives for granted. Most of us proceed under the illusion that there’s an unlimited supply of days ahead. While we know, of course, that we’re not immortal, this fact receives little conscious attention. We fall into the habit of procrastinating and postponing things, assuming tomorrow will continue to lie ahead of us.
Risky. We are not fortune tellers. We truly do not know what the future holds – how many years of good health we will have or how many opportunities there will be to share time with those we care about.
Psychologists (Layous et al 2018) recently investigated the effects of having people view time as scarce, and conducted an experiment encouraging participants to live as if they had only one month left in the city they resided in. Compared to a control group, these participants showed significant gains in well-being, deriving greater happiness from their surroundings. Savoring experiences was found to enhance feelings of connection, competence and control.
The results may seem counterintuitive – promoting a scarcity mentality as a means to well-being. And yet, considering future loss is apparently an effective approach to reminding us to make the most of the present time zone we live in!
Did you hear about the NFL player, St. Louis Rams’ center Jason Brown, who walked away from football and his $37 million contract several years ago to buy a farm in North Carolina? He grows food that he donates to the local pantry to feed the hungry, and reports how fulfilling his life a service is.
Check it out:
There are certain virtues we expect to find in our medical providers: a desire to help and heal, empathy, and compassion, among others. And yet, not every physician we encounter expresses these qualities.
Researchers from Duke University School of Medicine,Fuller Theological Seminary, and the Department of Medicine at the University of Chicago investigated the process by which medical students develop the moral intuition to care (Shepherd et al 2018). They studied 563 medical students across 24 US medical schools, analyzing the role of spirituality vs religiosity in virtue development.
The results show that the medical students’ spirituality predicted an intuition to care which predicted increases in empathic compassion and generosity. Interestingly, the importance of religion to the students did not predict the development of virtues. In fact, a negative relationship was found between religiousness and empathic compassion.
The fact that spirituality promotes virtues is not surprising when we consider that it connects people to something greater than themselves. By emphasizing connection to others, spirituality naturally cultivates such qualities as generosity and compassion. From this lens, medicine, ideally practiced in the service of helping others, represents a sacred goal or calling. The researchers suggest the ethical benefits of integrating spiritual growth awareness into medical education (as well as other contexts – military?), given that spirituality may affect students’ care of others.
Dr. Jim Withers of Pittsburgh, PA practices “street medicine.” He brings free medical care to the homeless and has developed Operation Safety Net, a set of essential health and social services offered through “house calls” to those living on the streets.
This model of outreach to the unsheltered homeless has now been replicated across six continents via the Street Medicine Institute.
Check it out:
Despite the common assumption that happiness is to be found in securing money or material items, the research is pretty clear that such gratification is short-lived. After providing an initial boost, material acquisitions tend to lose their impact quickly (see Brickman & Campbell, 1971, for their seminal work on hedonic adaptation, e.g., how people get quickly used to new circumstances).
What does promote a more lasting type of happiness is when people engage in intentional activities that create “flow” – a state of mind produced by a certain investment of energy, skill, and challenge (Csikszentmihalyi,1997, 1999). And yet, because flow activities require initial effort, we tend to lean towards more passive activities, even though these experiences are less likely to add up to a happy life.
Schiffer and Roberts (2018) found in a recent study that, even though people know that “effortful” flow activities facilitate long-term happiness better than passive ones, they still engage in passive leisure more often on a weekly basis.
According to their research, the reason for this “paradox” has to do with affective forecasting, the process of predicting how an event will emotionally affect one in the future. In particular, the researchers found that people predict flow tasks to be too daunting to initiate, which causes them to not engage in such tasks.
On the other hand, people perceive passive leisure as more enjoyable, requiring less activation effort. Such affective forecasting is inaccurate, given that true enjoyment (in a longer-term context) results from activities that require psychic investment and that facilitate growth.
What’s the take away here? Don’t confuse short-term pleasure (passive leisure) with longer term enjoyment and life satisfaction. Mindless hedonism only goes so far. It may be worth it to hold off on some of the instant gratification behaviors (checking social media?) in order to engage in happiness-lasting activities, even if they require start-up energy. It’s okay to work a little for true happiness.
A rehab center outside of Seattle called reSTART offers treatment programs for those addicted to devices and the instant gratification of online gaming and virtual reality. Treatment includes, in addition to therapy, time in nature, exercise, life skills such as cooking, laundry, and cleaning, and genuine recreational and social activities.
What does creativity offer us? Does one have to be a creative genius to reap the benefits of creativity or can we all profit?
A recent study (Conner, DeYoung and Silvia 2018) examined the relationship between daily creative activity and people’s emotional experiences. Participants kept daily diaries of their creative activity, which included documentation of not only artistic actions (painting, music, writing, etc.), but also the generation of novel ideas and the expression of oneself in original ways.
The researchers found that increased creativity led to increased well-being. Those who engaged in creative activity felt more enthusiasm and “flourishing” afterwards.
Previous studies have shown that positive emotions can influence creativity, but this study highlights a different cause and effect: how creativity can create greater energy and excitement as well as feelings of calm, contentment and relaxation on the days following creative activity.
The positive effects of daily creativity were found regardless of personality. In other words, everyone can benefit from creative activity – you don’t need to have a certain artistic temperament or style to begin with.
So go ahead, give yourself permission to get to know your brand of creativity. Even in the form of mundane daily experiences, creative actions can contribute to positive psychological functioning.
Creativity in Action:
Viewing artists as “children who survived,” London-based Ukrainian artist, Olya Dobrovolska, teaches children the basic notions of creativity. She helps children express their emotions through art and simply have fun with it. Check out her playful and imaginative work: http://www.dobrovolska-art.com
DanceSyndrome in northwest UK invites people of all abilities and disabilities to express themselves through dance. Those who have attended DanceSyndrome’s inclusive and supportive workshops report improved mental and physical health afterwards, feeling happier and more connected to others. The learning-disabled dance leaders have inspired hundreds since 2009 through their performances and classes. http://dancesyndrome.co.uk
Many people feel as though there’s something indulgent or selfish in desiring leisure. Even to just talk about it in this culture, unless it’s paired with retirement planning, seems to diminish or to cast doubt upon the seriousness of one’s work ethic, one’s intentions toward accomplishment and productivity.
A recent study, however, showed that when participants described a possible future for themselves, it contained significantly more leisure time than their daily lives contained (Loveday, Lovell and Jones 2018). And, most interestingly, the leisure desired was not just about having fun (though there’s nothing wrong with that!). Fifty-nine percent of the participants reported wanting to use the leisure time for learning, improving and contributing to society.
Activities such as travel, one of the most popular uses of leisure time, contribute to the building of knowledge, the feeling of meaning and purpose, and the sharing of new experiences with other people (as reported by the study’s participants). All these qualities are components of “the good life” as many conceptualize it.
Granted, this particular study was conducted on middle-class, middle-aged Australians with greater means for travel. But, cross-cultural research has found that, in general, leisure enhances well-being through its enabling of affiliation (time with family, friends, etc. providing a sense of connection and belonging) and of a sense of autonomy, among other benefits such as rest and recovery. ***
Did You Know:
The United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours” (The United Nations, 1948, article 24).
Did You Also Know:
In some countries, one’s freedom to “roam free” is protected by law. This principle is referred to in Sweden as allemansrätten. All publicly-owned land is free and accessible – no fees are associated with camping, cycling, or walking upon it. Other countries that enshrine the public’s right to roam in nature in law include Scotland, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Austria, Czech Republic, and Switzerland.
Here are some recent words of wisdom from two of my favorite people. Michael Pollan is speaking about insights he learned while doing research for his new book, How to Change Your Mind.
Pollan: “We assume we’re identical to our ego…But I’m not identical to my ego – there’s another ground on which to stand and take in reality….These defenses you build up over your whole life: you don’t need them. And you can lower them and not face complete annihilation.”
Colbert: “So ego should be a controlled substance?!”
Quoted from Stephen Colbert’s interview
with author Michael Pollan on the Colbert Show 5/15/18.
Check out the full interview at:
We’re all aware of the robust research on the benefits of physical activity. But what you may not be aware of is that the motivation behind the activity can determine how beneficial the actual doing of it is for your well-being.
Studies of older adults have shown, for example, that subjective well-being actually goes down when the purpose of engaging in an activity is a way to simply spend time as opposed to a way for meeting people (Everard et al 2000).
Why might this be the case? Let’s look a little deeper at what motivates voluntary behavior. According to the Dualistic Model of Passion (Vallerand et al 2007), there are two types of passion associated with doing preferred activities: obsessive passion and harmonious passion.
Obsessive passion has to do with feelings of internal or external pressure to do an activity due to it being linked to one’s self-esteem, social acceptance, or other influences on one’s sense of self. Harmonious passion has to do with a feeling of willingness and choice in engaging in an activity, usually because the individual decides it’s important to them without it impacting their identity. Harmonious passion has a sense of volition to it, whereas obsessive passion is associated with an uncontrollable urge and resulting conflict between the activity and other life priorities.
In a study of physically active older adults in Egypt (Salama-Younes and Hashim 2018), the researchers found that individuals who demonstrated harmonious passion as well as a subjective sense of vitality, had higher scores on life satisfaction. Obsessive passion, on the other hand, led to a significant decrease in life satisfaction regardless of personal feelings of vitality.
So perhaps, paradoxically, engaging in activities designed to maintain or enhance one’s self-esteem or personal sense of self may not, in fact, be the best form of self-care. ***
Fight for Peace academies in England and Brazil “combine boxing and martial arts with education and personal development to realize the potential of young people in communities affected by crime, violence and social exclusion.”
Promoting self-respect and self-control, discipline, and feelings of belonging, Fight for Peace endorses a holistic change model that includes physical training, employability, social support and youth leadership: “championship” inside and outside the boxing ring.
Check it out: http://fightforpeace.net/about-us/our-approach/
Did you know that there’s a thing called Psychological Capital or PsyCap? PsyCap is a positive psychological state composed of four overlapping components: hope, efficacy, resilience and optimism (HERO).
The bulk of the research on PsyCap has focused on organizational settings. These studies show that having PsyCap correlates with well-being (Murray et al 2010) and positive job performance (Luthans et al 2008), among other beneficial outcomes for employees such as decreasing burnout among nurses (Bitmis and Ergeneli 2015). As a result, PsyCap has been integrated into positive leadership development (Youssef-Morgan and Luthans, 2013).
A recent study in the Journal of Positive Psychology reports that PsyCap also influences motivation in academic settings (Alfonso et al 2018). PsyCap was found to predict greater academic engagement and achievement, in part through increasing students’ autonomous motivation (that is, motivation that stems from engaging in personally meaningful and satisfying actions).
PsyCap is being applied to other domains, such as Relationship PsyCap and Health PsyCap (Luthans et al 2013). Check out other applications ….
In 2015, the University of Wollongong in Australia opened its first “positive dorms,” Kooloobong Village, a residence for students that addresses not only their educational needs, but also their social and psychological needs using the science of positive psychology. Resources at the residence supply the “Wheel of Wellbeing - Body, Mind, Spirit, People, Place and Planet.” The Village and its Live Out Loud Program has received international attention as a model of holistic university residency and has received the Australian College of Educators’ Outstanding Achievement in Education award.