We can all relate to the burnout that comes with exposure to negative events, growing numb to the violence and injustice covered in the daily news, for example. But do we habituate as well to virtuous acts, feeling less elevation after repeatedly witnessing people going above and beyond?
Researchers at Seattle Pacific University investigated this question (Erickson et al 2018), specifically whether moral elevation (a type of awe and uplift experienced when watching people help each other) decreases over time and exposure. They measured participants’ responses to daily videos of people conducting virtuous acts and compared them with responses of participants who watched either neutral or amusing videos.
The results found that, as expected, those watching virtuous acts experienced immediate and sustained elevation in contrast to the other two groups. No habituation effects were found over time, after many exposures.
Another finding revealed that only those who watched the virtuous acts over time demonstrated higher positive affect up to a month later. Those participants also reported having set more compassionate goals during the same time span (e.g., trying to be supportive of others), and set fewer self-image goals (trying to get others to recognize their positive qualities).
Apparently, we do not tire of witnessing virtuous acts. Rather, they continue to move us and mobilize us to act more compassionately and to transcend concerns with our self-image. Perhaps we should take in positive news for our well-being as we do vitamins, to help us keep our minds healthy and our hearts inspired.
Read about Envision Kindness and their study showing how visual images of acts of kindness resulted in twice the amount of joy, gratitude and optimism than images of cuteness (puppies) or beauty (flowers).
Read about the new school campus designed by and for homeless children in Oklahoma City via the nonprofit Positive Tomorrows.
Read about Sloane Johnson, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, who coordinated life-changing help for the town’s local crossing-guard, Wallace Peoples, after learning of his struggles.
When going through adversity, it’s natural to focus on the fallout from it. To mention that growth can follow crisis, is to risk insensitivity towards the suffering of those in the thick of traumatic events.
Nevertheless, posttraumatic growth (PTG) is a real psychological possibility, just as is posttraumatic stress. PTG includes such positive changes as increased appreciation of life, strengthening of relationships, improvement of self-concept, among others.
How to foster PTG? A 2018 research study investigated whether the process of reflection through writing could foster PTG among a sample of adults who had recently gone through adverse experiences (Roepke et al 2018). The writing intervention used was that of prospection (as opposed to retrospection), that is, engaging future-thinking. Participants were asked to write once/week for 15 minutes about any new opportunities that may have presented themselves since the adversity or that might in the future.
Those participants who completed prospective writing (compared with those who did factual writing or no writing at all) experienced greater current PTG.
The importance of adopting a future orientation in healing from trauma is clear. It prevents us from shutting down. It allows us to identify new doors that may open in our lives after stressful events, and enables us to cross those thresholds and move forward.
Ron Robert, an 81 year old Canadian and former political journalist, decided to cope with his diagnosis of Alzheimer at 78 by enrolling as an undergraduate at King’s University College in London, Ontario. Robert reports that the diagnosis is “not the end – it’s a new beginning” and is determined to change his lifestyle to feel better, even in the midst of cognitive decline. He’s part of the Canadian “Yes I live with Dementia” campaign.
Shall we have a new relationship with the New Year? That could mean changing how we relate to our annual goals and goal-setting. Those who set new year’s resolutions are probably familiar with the optimistic lay-out of long-term intentions each January, only to watch behavioral follow-through wither away by winter’s end.
If we choose to continue setting goals, then perhaps we should implement an approach that supports us in reaching them. Simply telling oneself “Just do it,” like a Nike’s commercial, usually doesn’t cut it. So, let’s go to the research and see what it has to offer.
Woolley and Fischbach (2016, 2017, 2018) have published widely their studies of the efficacy of immediate rewards versus delayed gratification in the pursuit of long-term goals. They found that, even though participants believe delayed gratification to be the driving force behind their motivation (e.g., achieving the final outcome – such as weight loss), only actual immediate enjoyment of the activity predicted perseverance (e.g., people will only spend more time exercising if they enjoy it in the moment).
The sooner rewards are given, the more one’s intrinsic motivation increases, “creating a perceptual fusion between the activity and its goal.” In other words, rewards increase the positive experience of the activity, making it likely that one will continue investing in it.
The researchers also found that the timing of the reward matters even more than the size of the reward: getting a bonus sooner, even if it’s small, has a greater effect on enhancing performance and the grit required in follow-through, than the receiving of a larger reward later.
So whatever your new year’s resolutions are, it’s better to address them in a manner that you can enjoy NOW. Focus on the immediate benefits of the activity, in the moment, instead of waiting for some hypothetical payoff in the future at the task’s eventual completion.
Goal-oriented behaviors should include some element of fun and have treats associated with them, given that our brains are designed to respond to immediate rewards. No shame in that. Maybe we can just acknowledge (and appreciate) that part of ourselves upfront and approach our goals in collaboration with our hard-wired reward-orientation.
Have you considered broadening your resolutions, beyond the scope of improving your body or budget, or organizational tendencies? Intentions can also be set towards prosocial aims - helping a person in need, decreasing another's loneliness, cleaning up some small space outside one's home. It's a win-win, bringing gratification to the giver and receiver.
The material world certainly tugs at us as we approach the holidays. The emphasis on gift-giving can especially assume center stage, causing a flurry of purchasing as Christmas draws near. While the giving and receiving of presents can be fun and affirming of our connection with others, it can also become stressful when it manifests as materialism.
Materialism is defined by 1) the centrality of acquiring material possessions in one’s life, as well as 2) the pursuit of happiness through the pursuit of material possessions, and lastly, 3) the use of these acquisitions to define one’s success. Materialism has been found in many studies to be associated with life dissatisfaction.
Several years ago a group of researchers explored the components underlying this relationship between materialism and dissatisfaction (Roberts, Tsang and Manolis 2015). If we’re trying to feel happy and successful with our belongings, how is it that we end up feeling the opposite?
In their study they found a third variable that came in-between material possessions and dissatisfaction – namely negative affect. Those people demonstrating high materialism tend to also experience more negative feelings. More negative emotion is associated with lower life satisfaction. In other words, we’re not likely to be feeling all that happy and successful as we try to accumulate more material objects in the service of feeling happy and successful!
The upshot? Well, the researchers also found that, when people exhibit high levels of gratitude, the negative feelings associated with materialism tend to abate and even reverse. Simply put, feeling grateful for what you have buffers against the negative effects of materialism.
But it may be better to disengage with materialism altogether (rather than try to mitigate it with gratitude). The researchers found that it takes high levels of gratitude and positive affect to prevent the negative effects of materialism on life satisfaction.
So why not subtract materialism from the equation altogether? We can allow ourselves easy access to satisfaction during the holidays by not wedding our happiness to undue focus on the self and it’s acquisition of material objects.
Do you know about Alternative Gifts International? They are a non-profit organization that enables people to give gifts to those they care about, monetary gifts that help in the solving of humanitarian and environmental issues.
Check it out:
Seeking self-esteem is like trekking through the Himalayas hoping to find a Yeti. We tell ourselves: “Just keep scaling the slopes: looking, achieving, producing, accumulating — and eventually I will get there. I will feel good about myself.”
But when have we ever found the mythical creature? When have we ever found a self that is good enough?
This blog entry continues on the NewHarbinger.com website. Click below:
As we take time this week to think about what we’re grateful for, let’s add gratitude itself to the list.
The practice of gratitude is a gift not only to others, but also to ourselves, as it’s been associated with many health benefits including: greater well-being and life satisfaction, improved sleep, fewer physical complaints, healing from trauma, greater empathy and optimism, and a lower overall lifetime risk of developing psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression, alcohol and substance abuse and eating disorders (e.g., Kendler et al 2003; Emmons & McCullough 2003; Wood et al 2010, among many other research studies).
Gratitude involves developing the capacity to appreciate and savor life experiences. There are so many ways to feel and express gratitude. Here are a few to consider:
Though the cultural tendency may be to focus on what’s not going well (in order to address current challenges, solve problems and secure necessary support), we would do well to also practice a grateful outlook.
Gratitude is both a positive emotion that makes us happy and a personal strength that we can build like a muscle. Giving thanks is not just a one-day affair!
I'm grateful for science solving world problems!
Check out the Qingdao Saltwater Rice Research and Development Center and how Chinese researchers have developed rice that grows in saltwater, leading to productive initial yields in the United Arab Emirates.
A recent study of people living with middle stage HIV investigated the effect of compassionate love on their survival (Ironson, Kremer and Lucette, 2018).
Compassionate love has been defined as love that focuses on the well-being of the other person including: supporting the other’s free choice and valuing and empowering them, holding an accurate understanding of the other and their situation, and openness towards spirituality and responding from the heart.
The stress, coping and health status of the study participants was assessed every six months for seven years. The results found that offering oneself compassionate love predicted better survival. This was found even after controlling for other variables such as social support. The findings might be explained, though, by the fact that those who gave themselves compassionate love also tended to demonstrate better medication adherence.
The most significant finding though (not mediated by medication adherence) was that givingotherscompassionate love also predicted survival, whereas receiving it from others did not.
Simply put: giving to others is good for us – whether we give materially, or of our time, or through our compassionate stance towards others. It’s why volunteers tend to live longer; they receive the mental and physical benefits of giving. And now this research shows that, even if we are ill and living with a chronic condition, the giving of compassionate love to others and to ourselves, can also extend the quality and duration of our lives!
David Shutts, several years after receiving a diagnosis of stage four cancer, launched a website helping those with chronic medical conditions find meaningful work. After having experienced the negative impact of his own identity shrinking to that of “cancer patient,” David decided to start a nonprofit that would help people with illness remember their value and contribute their talents to society.
Check it out: www.astriid.org.uk
Interestingly, while feeling attached to the animal was positively associated with satisfaction and mood, a high degree of attachment was found to have the opposite effect (lower subjective well-being). This finding is replicated in other studies, suggesting, perhaps, the disadvantage of too much attachment to animals should it come at the expense of human relationships.
No worries – plenty of care and affection to go around – to people and animals!
Did you know...
The British Fashion Council has ended the use of animal fur in its London fashion shows as of this September. A number of high profile designers, such as Versace, Burberry, and Stella McCartney, have also dropped fur from their global collections.
Check it out:
Joy is not just happiness. Joy is its own unique positive emotion, usually activated in response to good news or the arrival of a hoped-for event.
But not everyone responds to such occasions with joy. Researchers have investigated what makes some people more prone to feeling joy than others and have found that people flourish more in response to having a “disposition” of joy than relying on isolated experiences of intense but short-lived joyful emotion (Watkins et al 2018).
A disposition toward joy is a subtle enduring state, characterized by the following type of outlook: “In a typical day, things often happen that tell me my life is working out the way it should” or “Many things can bring me delight,” or “Even in the midst of bad situations, I can usually find something to rejoice about.” It is a perspective that life is being well-lived.
A clear relationship also exists between joy and gratitude, with findings suggesting that gratitude predicts increases in joy over time. Interestingly, dispositional joy also predicts enhanced gratitude.
In other words, it appears that the more grateful we are for what we have, the more able we are to experience joy in our lives. And, by being more joyful, we are then able to find more to be grateful for. It’s an upward spiral of increasing well-being, available to us all should we choose to jump aboard.
A study by the University of Exeter in 2017 found a relationship between the number of birds that people could see near their homes in the afternoon and decreasing levels of anxiety, stress and depression experienced. The study adds to the already compelling research documenting the mental health benefits of engagement with nature.
Check it out:
When feeling insecure about ourselves or our relationships, we may try to overcompensate – to show our partners how smart, competent, or attractive we are. A recent study of intimate relationships reveals, however, the significant association between humility and relationship happiness (Dwiwardani et al 2018).
The study included participants from the US and India who were in exclusive romantic relationships of at least three months duration. The results showed that perceiving one’s partner as humble significantly predicted relationship satisfaction. The opposite was found as well: Being perceived as superior negatively predicted one’s partner’s relational satisfaction. Other virtues such as forgiveness, gratitude, and relationship commitment were also found to be associated with perceived humility.
The study provides evidence for how having an accurate view of oneself can be protective for relationships as opposed to self-enhancing. Acknowledging one’s own shortcomings can help repair conflicts and strengthen the relationship bond. So too can acknowledging the virtues of one’s partner, such as appreciating their humility.
Inspiring Story ….
Dennis Frandsen, a successful Midwest banker, has twice paid for the full community college education of an entire graduating class in his hometown in Wisconsin. Owner of manufacturing companies and banks across several states, Frandsen never went to college himself. He reports wanting to help local youth come out of college without any debt.
Check it out: