My notes on Positive Psychology
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17-09-2014, 03:24 AM (This post was last modified: 18-09-2014 02:52 AM by HU.Junyuan.)
My notes on Positive Psychology
Lecture given by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, Psychology 1504, Harvard, 2008.

Hopefully we can share and nurture something here.

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17-09-2014, 03:26 AM
RE: My notes on Positive Psychology
Lecture 01 -- Guideline

Being unhappy. Being unhappy despite reasons that seem to ensure happiness. Why ? How to regain happiness and get happier ? One possible way: through Positive Psychology.

Imagine that a happier self exists. Try to explain why. Is it that the imagined self is more extroverted, outgoing, taller and masters several shortcuts to happiness ? No, those are the wrong places for the explanation. Those are mere messengers. We need to look at the message itself -- Positive Psychology. And it works.

While we are constantly lured and frustrated by stunts of the self-health movement, rigorous academic studies are sometimes left almost uncared for in the ivory tower. Bridging the ivory tower and the mainstreet would therefore be very meaningful. Applying these knowledge to ourselves is also going to bring great difference. And those are the two parts of this class: theories and theories applied.

[Dr. Ben-Shahar's study] Appreciation of the beauty of silence, quite times, embracing stillness, a highly important notion. Take a time-in (meditation) in a class, during work, when bothered a million thoughts on one's mind, while having a fight within a relationship. [Rate race experiment] Because actual learning, the focus on the important and decision to keep it and throw away other trivials, happens after the fact, during periods of quiet wakeful introspection. Replay for learning and memory. [Native Americans sitting together around a fire] Also enjoy silence and tranquility.

History of psychology. First force, behaviorism. A collection of reactions. A box of behaviors. Pushed around by punishment and reward. Second force, psychoanalysis. Understand through subconsciousness. Defense, instincts, neurosis, dark forces. Third force, humanistic psychology. We are much more than a billiard ball being knocked around. And we are much more than instincts. Many wonderful concepts. [Maslow, 1954] Salutogenisis. [Saligman, 1998] Psychology more accessible and also focused on things that works, love, relationships, self-esteem, motivation, resilience and well-being.

About 1504. First, this is not JUST about information, but ALSO about transformation. Information ALONE does not determine our well-being, self-esteem, motivation and quality of relationships. Transformation is ALSO important. [1998 MRI studies] Neuroplasticity. Our brain actually can be changed, and it changes throughout our life. [Drucker, weekend] On Monday, no 'how wonderful', but rather 'what being done differently'. Successful changes involve cognitive and emotional changes. Second, interpretation. [Example, aim at 3rd, come as 8th] Same information, and there can be different interpretations. Happiness is much more contigent on our state of mind than our status or bank account state.

1504 is to make common sense more common, especially in the realm of application. It is common sense that helps us become happier. The only 'Wow' about Positive Psychology is that there is NO 'Wow'. A fulfilling and rich life includes ups and downs, victories and losses, pains and getting up again. Yet [Voltaire] common sense is not that common, which specially applies to application of Positive Psychology principles. Therefore [Maslow] the goal is self-actualization, simply put, helping oneself to become the best that one is able to become. [Michelangelo] Chip away the excess stone. [Humanistic approach] Lose limitations and fulfill one's potential.

Identify the right questions. Questions create reality. Questions like "do I have high self-esteem or low self-esteem" are irrelavant and almost impossible to answer. Yet it is questions like "how do I improve my self-esteem and [question of questions] become happier" that really matters. [Drucker] Not asking the right question, biggest mistake, both in management and research, and especially in application. [Carter 20 years of MBA followup study] extraordinarily successful group, 2 distinctions, believe in oneself (thus driven and motivated, self-fulfilling prophecy), always ask questions and life-long learners (curiosity, [Seinfeld clip] opening-up, wanting to understand the world more). 1504 is not a survey of Positive Psychology, but rather a selective exploration of the question of questions, what contributes to happiness, how can we become happier.

Self-reflectiveness, study oneself, as well as studying others. Rigorous fun. Many ideas of 1504 will be simple, but not simplistic. In fact they are of [Holmes] simplicity on the other side of complexity. So teaching is another good way of learning.

A feasible pathway: Willingness to make a difference. Make effort. Time-in. Replay. Reflect. Chip away excess stone. Change.

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17-09-2014, 11:59 PM
RE: My notes on Positive Psychology
Lecture 02 -- Question

[Lyubomirsky] Importance of "finding fit". Theories, ideas, techniques, interventions, that effectively resonate and work.

[Dr. Shahar being very sick, contemplated on what to leave behind academically if there had been only one year left for him] The first reason for choosing to teach Positive Psychology. [Myers' study on psychological abstracts, 1967 - 2000] "Positive research, life satisfaction, happiness, joy, " versus "negative research, depression, anxiety, anger", 1:21, a lot of attention on what didn't work. [Maslow, 1954] Much about man's shortcomings, his illnesses, his sins, but little about his potentialities, his virtues, his achievable aspirations or his psychological height. Yes we do need more people to help others alleviate anxiety and depression. We ALSO need to shift the pendulum of 1:21 ratio. Second reason, being happy isn't just the negation of unhappiness. Third reason while intervention and prevention is very important today, one most effective way of intervening anxiety and depression, preventing hardship and recovering from it, is actually by focusing on and culivationg the positive.

Importance on what works. [Seligman] The aim of positive psychology is to catalyze a change in psychology from a preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life to ALSO building the best qualities in life. Not EXCLUSIVELY, not even PRIMARILY. How do we focus on what works ? Through the question that we ask. [1940s intervention program] First they asked "why do these individuals fail". Intervention. Little Change. Then they asked "why do some individuals succeed despite unfavorable circumstances". Identify these elements. Results came after decades of nearly none. Resilience.

Resilience, a class of phenomena characterized by patterns of positive adaptation in the context of significant adversity or risk. [1] Optimistic, as an interpretation style. [2] Sense of meaning in life. [3] Idealistic as well as realistic. [4] Pro-social behavior, shift from helplessness to helpfulness. [5] Identify and also focus on strenghs other than primarily on deficiencies. [6] Set goals, future-oriented. [7] Role model. [8] (No.1 factor, with the right people) Have social support. Not bowl alone. Not "tough enough to do it myself" but "tough enough to reach out for help". [9] Strength to admit weakness, to admit a need. As important for everyone, associated with well-being. Can be taught. Able to be learned.

Importance and power of questions. Question creates reality and possibilites, begins a quest, [Antonovski] from pathogenisis to salutogenisis. [Exercise: 30 seconds, counted geometric shapes, neglected time on the clock, missed kids on the bus] Question directs people to a certain part of reality. Good thing to be able to focus on thing to thing from time to time, ALSO important to remember the consequences of this ability. It is not always good or helpful. [Example of questions newly wed couples often ask: what's wrong]. Do we ask questions about our strengths, passiosn, virtues and wonderful things within us. The word "appreciate". Appreciate the good, the good appreciates. Appreciate it in a grounded manner.

[Simpsons clip] Understand the questions we ask and then what questions to ask. [Story of Marva Collions] Rigorous love. DO a lot of believing in ourselves. Look at the strengths and cultivate those. [Postive learning clip] Her book, one book we should want to read. Identify role model, study the tip of the stem. Appreciate potentials and high expectations. Tough, demanding and respecting, motivates her students to transform from an passive victim to an active agent, to take action and responsibility. Optism. [Gardner, on multiple intelligencies] Stop asking whether or not a student is smart. What we need to ask is what the student is smart (strong, virtuous, good) at. Then we appreciate it, like we water and shed light on a seed. Give oneself time to experience painful emotions, permission to be human, and then take responsibility and actions with optimism, which in turn would then become a self-fulfilling prophecy. [Branden's message] Self-responsibility is one pillar of self-esteem: Yes, I came. I came to tell you, no one is coming.

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18-09-2014, 02:50 AM (This post was last modified: 18-09-2014 02:55 AM by HU.Junyuan.)
RE: My notes on Positive Psychology
Lecture 03 -- 2 / 5 basic premises: Bridge building and Change is possible.

Recap. Why Positive Psychology ?

First, shift the penudulum. Before, school system in Chicago asked "How do we keep students in school long enough to prevent their becoming gansters and victims". Marva Collions asked "How do we cultivate the seed of greatness in our students".

Second, happiness does not spontaneously arise when unhappiness is taken away. [Example of the ability to enjoy food] Getting rid of indigestion is important before enjoying a feast. Yet it does not in and of itself guarantee that we enjoy food. [Thoreau, 1840s] Most men lead lives in quiet desperation. [Pink Floyd] People are comfortably numb. [Conventional model] If we remove illness, we become healthy.[Postive model] We are ill because we don't have enough healthy things. To move beyond, it is therefore necessary to cultivate the positive.

Third, we ALSO cultivate the positive. Take part in creative tension, venture out of the comfort zone into the strech zone, flow, move beyond the state of "comfortably numb". And in this way we ALSO have effectively dealt with the negative. [10 years of research] To most effectively prevent depression, one needs to develop passions.

[Maslow on neurosis] Neurosis is a falling short of what one could have been and even one could say, of what one should have been, biologically speaking that is, if one had grown and developed in an unimpeded way. Human and personal possibilities have been lost. The world has been narrowed and so has consciousness. Capacities have been inhibited. A failure of personal growth. Interpretation: we deminish ourselves, not self-actualized, and become unwell. [Seligman, on experience of past decades] Indeed the major strides in prevention have largely come from a perspective focused on systematically building competency, not correcting weakness. We have discovered that there are human strengths that act as buffers against
mental illness: courage, future-mindedness, optimism, interpersonal skill, faith, work ethic, hope, honesty, perseverance, the capacity for flow and insight, to name several.

Heath model: cultivate capacities. This will follow through the whole course. Two analogies: First, [Branden] Psychological immune system. Second, capacities are like the engine of a car pushing it up a hill. Under its guidance, universities should invest more in cultivating the meaning of life in students, identifying what they really want to do and their strengths to do it.


5 basic premises of this course. [1] Bridging building, rather than specialization. [2] Change is possible, though at times it is difficult. [3] Internal circumstance primarily affects happiness, and external circumstance is also important. [4] "Human nature must be obeyed" versus "human nature must be perfected", foundation of mental health and wellbeing. [5] Happiness (happier) is and ought to be the ultimate end which we pursue and this is also a moral claim.


Bridge Building

The idea of "profane mainstreet" versus "sacred academia" hurts both sides. Lab theories shouldn't mind get field tested and hands "dirty", because what the worlds need, more than anything, are practical idealists. The "ME" generation actually want to make a difference in the world. Psychology can help moving motivating and cultivating the "passive victim" to become the "active agent". We form our theories based on reality. And we can take these theories and apply it. And then we revise the theories based on feedback and so on and so forth, an upward spiral.

[Example of Pygmalion effect]. [Indiscriminately praise proves detrimental in the long run]. [Yoga practice most effectively reduces second time offenders]. [Meditation literally transforms our brains]. [Exercising 3 - 4 times a day, 30 - 40 minutes each time, equals the effect of the most powerful psychiatrtic drugs]. [Contact hypothesis without a superordinate goal doesn't work, if not worsens the situation]. Idealism and good intentions alone is not enough. Research and practice must be comebined. It's important to go with the heart and mind.


Change is possible

Foundation of a practical idealist is that change is possible. In the context of psychology, it is anything that is trival but that change is possible. [Minnesota Twins Study] How much do gene matter ? Does this study mean happiness is a stochastic phenomenon, and that trying to be happier is as futile as trying to be taller and is therefore counterproductive ? There are evidence that people are changed. [Error of the Average] Joke: a statistician drowned in a pool with an average depth of 10 inches. Exceptions strech our mind and the ability to understand when and where change is possible. And that's why the outlets are most interesting and role models influence profoundly.
[Maslow] Growing-tip statistics. Let's (ALSO) study the sages, the saints, the extraordinary people, the arrowhead, so that we can understand and realize the potential in all people. The highest potential of human beings have practically always been underrated.

The dis-ease we felt is because of our concerns over elitism. 2 reasons why not. First, it says we ALSO look at the best. Second, everyone benefits when we study the best. [Meditation example]. So it's more beneficial to study of our best moments, when we are transiently self-actualized.

Let's study what works. Let's study what work best. [the Cambridge-Somervile Youth study, 1930s] 250 kids from at-risk population, 5-year intervention, got help and attention, with another 250 as control, and studied for another 35 years. Shocking result. No difference, if not effect "in the wrong direction" on average. Idealism, yet not practical, especially when jumping to the conclusion that "societal change is impossible".

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19-09-2014, 01:42 AM (This post was last modified: 19-09-2014 01:50 AM by HU.Junyuan.)
RE: My notes on Positive Psychology
Lecture 04 -- 4 / 5 basic premises: Internal factors and Permission to be human

Continuing the foundation of the spiral of this course.


Change is possible (continued)

The "Rolls-Royce" intervention effort failed, yet Marva Collions and others succeeded. So how is it possible to change ? It is important for us practical idealist enthusiastics to understand what brings about change and do it, and then democratize the excellence.

One great barrier of achieving things (also confirmed by a 2014 TED talk) is that they underestimate their ability to bring about change. Change happens exponentially. [6 degrees of separation]. [Smiles are contagious, 1 to 3 each after 20 degrees of separation, the whole world smiles]. [A 2014 TED talk: even when unhappy, move the muscles on the face to form a smile, neural stimulus will then make that person feel different, or significantly different]. [Chess board and grain]. [Pay it forward].


Internal factors versus external factors

[Effects of questionnaires confirmed by fMRI studies]. [Study of professors before and after getting the tenure decision] How long are they going to stay ecstatic through ? For the rest of their lives, they said. What if rejected ? Devastated for a very long time, they said. Indeed ecstatic and devastated on the occasion. Yet 6 months later, on AVERAGE, they went back to how happy they were before the occasion. Once the basic needs (food, shelter, basic education) are satisfied, external factors (income, wealth) are not that powerful any more (yet some still have significant influence, like how free they are as individuals separately and as a people on the whole). So, since our level of well-being is largely stable, why should we still work hard ? Yes, stable. And also increasable.

Lower expectations to reduce stress ? Effective in the wrong direction on the long run. It is right versus wrong, not low versus high, expectations that matters. One right expectations: believe in change from within.

Then what about our real basic instincts and inclinations that sometimes get in the way, which are fixed in the hardware ? Should we fight regardless or resign regretfully ? Although [Bacon] Nature to be commanded must be obeyed, we are also able to understand it and make the best use of (channel) it, either as a person individually or as a people collectively. And psychologically, this is the most important pillar of our happiness during this era.


Permission to be human.

We permit ourselves to also experience pain (embarrassment, shame, regret). Those who do not experience painful emotions are either mentally very ill or dead. [Baby clip, crying and laughing alternatively] (Note: remember the simplicity on the other side of complicity ?) [Dr. Shahar envy his new-born son David] He eventually admitted and accepted it and then went on enjoying and celebrated the positive emotions that he experienced toward David. [Ironic processing] When we suppress a thought, often it only strengthens. Eg., Do NOT think of a pink elephant. So did it ever come to your mind ? [The Grand Deception]
We don't necessarily have to wear our heart on our sleeves, yet: How are you doing ? Oh, great ... but we need ACTIVE acceptance: change what we can change now and what we aren't able to change instantly, and know the DISTINCTION (especially between Affect Behavior and Cognition). We accept the affect, but not necessarily the behavior (inevitable that we will do it) and cognition (inevitable that we will think it that way). Once accepted, rumination actually isn't that painful, but we can choose not to ruminate excessively and know this consciously.

Be true to reality. And 1504 can actually be called Reality Psychology. Shift the pendulum of 1:21 and actively accept painful emotions as out human nature as well.

[Group Meditation] Sit up straight as much as possible , rest the feet, close the eyes. Focus on the breath. Deep breath into the belly, and then out. Have some time to be grateful about our breaths and celebrate it. Then pay attention to the emotions. Let it flow throughout the body naturally, whatever it is, all OK, just breathe. Observe and experience whatever emotion that comes up.

"As you continue breathing deeply, in your mind's eye, see yourself walking out of this classroom today, walking in the yard, with the feeling that all your feelings are real fine part of human nature. They just are. Neither good nor bad. As you walk amid the buildings and trees, as you see our friends and classmates, allow these emotions to float through you, freely, lightly. By experiencing these emotions, whether the ups or downs. What you are doing is being -- being a human being. What if you truly gave yourself the permission to be human ? What if you are giving yourself the permission to be human ? Just imagine. Life becomes so much lighter, so much simpler. When, rather than trying to fight or defeat your nature, you accept it. You accept who you are. You accept whatever emotion comes up."

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22-09-2014, 06:47 PM
RE: My notes on Positive Psychology
Lecture 05 -- 5/5 of the basic premises, Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Happiness should be our chief concern and it is moral.

On the moral dimensions of importance, true personal happiness also is the highest end, which determines the motion of life.

Benefits of positive emotions: [1] It feels good to feel good, have more motivation and energy. and facilitates a pursuit instead of the runaways many people usually have, feeling good, success, well-being; [2] happiness contribute to our life, our relationship and therefore other people's life by Broadening our thinking and Building our capacities, because when we are experiencing too much negative emotions, our consciousness and thinking Narrow and Constrict excessively beyond the threat and hardship, while sufficient positive emotions can create an upward spiral and bring about creativity [Studies of doctors about a liver problem,candy group won] [Children with different moods assigned to same studying task: in many ways defies the no pain no gain paradigm]; [3] Moral benefit.

Individual pursuit of happiness is moral. We define happiness to be the positive kind here. So although "I want to become happier" is still selfish, it is not necessarily bad and immoral. In fact, No.1 cause of unhappiness is feeling immoral in pursuit of happiness. RESPOND: [1] Happiness is a positive sum game. Happiness is contagious, if I am happier, I am more likely to contribute to other people's happiness and well-being. Being happy is also a moral state in the sense of actually contributing to other people's wellbeing. [2] Over their vicissitudes of life, those who work on their happiness have better relationships, are more generous, more accepting of others, and more tolerant, and thus in turn have helped themselves.

[Gandhi] Be the change you want to be in the world. [put hand at chin said cheek experiment] Action speaks louder than words. We are idealists. We want to do good in the world. We want to spread happiness. And therefore the best way to do so is to start with an action of our own -- working on our own happiness.


Belief as Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Power of the mind. [Roger Bannister story] For decades nobody ran the mile under 4 minutes until Roger Bannister. 6 weeks after that another man also break the ceiling. In the following year, another 37 athletes were able to achieve that. The next year, over 300. Beliefs are self-fulfilling prophecies.

About belief: [1] How do beliefs shape reality, [2] How do we enhance belief in ourselves.

[Story of Pygmalion] [musical: My Fair Lady] People can be changed and transformed. [Rosenthal experiment] IQ of the so-called "fast spurters" grew significantly. More importantly, it happened because they, as well as we, have seeds of greatness lying within which need cultivation. Power of the mind ? Yes. It is also about asking the right question that in part creates reality. And this power does not come from narcissistic detachment from reality, but rather from the ability to better recognize reality which like the children on the bus gets neglected under a different question.


Situation we create or that is created for us

Power of the situation. (Negatively) [Asch Conformity Experiment]. [Milgram Obedience to Authority Experiment]. [Zimbardo Prison Experiment]. Why not positive situation ? (Positively) [1979 Langer 1959 role play experiment] One week, Both mental and BIOLOGICAL age decreased. [Langer pilot scene experiment] 40% eyesight improved significantly.

So, how do we create a positive situation ?

[Barge, Priming Experiment] Old age and achievement. Then, how can we create consciously and subconsciously a positive environment where we can actually take out the most moral, most successful self, to appreciate that self, to help the environment to bring out the best in us ?

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23-09-2014, 02:31 AM
RE: My notes on Positive Psychology
Lecture 06 -- Self-efficacy

Recap: Since situation is so powerful, can we also create a powerful positive situation to bring out the best in people ? Yes, we can. [Langer study with old age and young environment] [Dijksterhuis and Kniippensberg archetype description priming]

So put in your environment pictures, quotes or signs that bring about positive meanings to you.



Self-help movement tells only part of the truth and sometimes exaggerates it as well as power of the mind. Inspiring, has drawn masses, law of attraction, but is the message right ? That depends on whether there is enough emphasis on the objective factors that consist of the reality when we are talking a lot about subjectivity's power. The Secret of XX often only shows the lesser half of the equation, yet still serves positive purposes during a time when the pendulum is heavily on the negative side. [RBS's ad about positive thinking versus action]. So we need serious research to understand power of the mind as well as its mechanism, and then put it to our lives.

[Bandura] Self-efficacy, which in plain words, believing in oneself. "Beliefs in personal efficacy affect life choices, level of motivation, quality of functioning, resilience to adversity and vulnerability to stress and depression." "People who regard themselves as highly efficacious act, think and feel differently from those who perceive themselves as inefficacious. They produce their own future, rather than simply foretell it." Being scribing other than being prescribed in life. And this ability is proven ABLE to be learned and cultivated, and therefore malleable. [Curry athlete study] level of hope contributes 56%. [Carter HBS study mentioned earlier] Self-belief and curiosity leads to extraordinary success. ALSO important to remember as well, that it does not explain 100%. [Benson's placebo effect study] Placebo effect even helps patients to overcome small dosage ipecac, a drug that should have induced vomit. [Plant allergy test] There's also a strong mental element in allergy.

How does self-efficacy work ? What functions between belief and actual performance in the real world ?

Mechanisms: [1] Through MOTIVATION, such as seen in Marva Collins' students. [2] Through the notion of CONSISTANCY or congruence. People have subjective mental schema about the world and people around them, to which there's this outside objective world of reality. When there's a discrepancy between the inside and the outside, then the sense of dissidence and disease, and then the impulse to regain consistency, which in turn is implemented either by altering what we think or by actively changing the reality.

DIALOGUE between the inside and outside. (When inconsistency recognized) [1] Update the schema according to the reality observed. [2] Retain the schema by either Ignore/discard external information that contradicts it or by actively seeking confirmation that supports it, or both. [3] Retain the schema and actively change the reality to match up with it. INTERPRETATION: [1] Objective interpretation based on the facts. [2] Subjective interpretation based on belief. [Edison and 5000 times' success in showing what didn't work] There's no coincidence that Edison, one of the most successful inventors in history, is also one of those people who failed most times.

Only way to success: Learn through fail, or fail to learn, no other way.

[Seligman's interpretation about OPTIMISM and PESSIMISM] Interesting asymmetry: Pessimists are realistic both in the short and long term goals, unsuccessfully realistic through lowering expectations and evaluations as well as actions less motivated that ultimately lead to a lower reality as expected. Optimists are unrealistic in the short term goals yet realistic in the long term goals, successfully realistic through inspiring expectations and evaluations as well as actions more motivated that eventually lead to achieving a higher reality as hoped for. Interpretations between as permanent or as temporary, as pervasive (all or nothing) or as specific. [Story of Matt Biondi]. Learning to interpret things subjectively as optimists leads to much higher success, [Reivich a few weeks program versus Summerville 5 years study] 8 times less likely to experience depression, thus more resilience, longevity. And YES, it can be learned.

DISTINCTION between realistic optimism and detached optimism. [Magnificent love story about Tal and Rena]. [Stockdale paradox, HEURISTIC] Though seemingly contradicting, both belief of getting out and realistic evaluation of the situation are critical for those POW's survival. What if believing in something yet reality contradicts it ? The consequence is acceptable and we will bounce back up and continue working hard. Key is the balance, or [Maslow] The Graceful Integration of high levels of belief and close connections to reality.

THE KEY: Optimism, Passion, Hard work.

Parents and many others may believe high expectations naturally lead to disappointment, like [James, 19th century] Self-esteem = Achievement / Expectations. Wrong.

Actually, [Gilbert] happiness level fluctuates around baseline, and is resilient to deviation, and that baseline is malleable. [Self-esteem research] To raise self-esteem is to cope as opposed to avoid. Those who cope with difficulties other than avoid have a baseline going upwards. 3 REASONS: [1] Perception theory. We derive conclusion of ourselves the SAME way we derive conclusion about others, looking at behavior. Coping is deemed courageous. [2] Pain of actual failure is far less than the pain associated with failure. [3] Only way to success: Learn through fail, or fail to learn, no other way.

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29-09-2014, 03:08 AM (This post was last modified: 29-09-2014 06:54 PM by HU.Junyuan.)
RE: My notes on Positive Psychology
Lecture 07 -- Self-efficacy and Focus

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy (Continued)

How to raise the base level of happiness ? One way is to cope, putting ourselves on the line, in the stretch zone, and we will perceive ourselves as courageous as how we derive the same conclusion of others. After a while with efforts and failures, we actually will start to recognize that failure is not THAT painful after all, and so we keep trying and coping with it and that's the only way we will succeed.

How do we enhance our optimism (optimism not as a Pollyannaish feel-good kind of approach, but rather an interpretation style) ?

Here are 3 techniques:
[1] Take action, just do it,
[2] Power of imagination.
[3] Cognitive therapy.

ACTION. [Bandura] He came against much of the feel-good movement, which actually hurts in the long-run. Rather than talk, we need action, ACTUALLY putting ourselves on the stretch line, which eventually generate confidence and motivation, similar to how our immune system works. Failure's virtue is under-rated. Through failure and positive interpretation is the only way to success.

INMAGINING success. [Tal's personal story about nervousness] Visualization, build a LINK between hard work and success mentally. [Kosslyn] When we see something, or imagine seeing something, same neural pathway is active. Just like how pilots are trained. [Taylor experiment] Imagining hard work and then success is more effective, both the JOURNEY and DESTINATION. [Dr. King Jr.'s I have a dream speech clip] Through imagination he creates a better reality. INVOLVING more senses and the imagination would be more vivid and effective. Vision, voice, touch, taste, smell. Interestingly, e-motion leads to motion.

COGNITIVE therapy. Let's be REAL. Sequentially, EVENT leads to EVALUATION (thoughts), which in turn leads to EMOTION, and then MOTION. By intervening at the evaluation section and restoring rationality, we are able to reduce excessive IRRATIONAL part (such as the 3M's) and bring about sufficient rational thoughts, emotions and eventually, motions. Over all, this is an approach that works, that works most effectively and most prompt.

Looking through the 3M's, the three traps of irrational thoughts.

Magnifying. Generalization (induction) is how we learn of a concept and language, a healthy thing. Over-generalization is irrational and unhealthy. The "all or nothing approach" catastrophizes failure instead of seeing it as a stepping stone.

Minimizing. [Reivich] "Tunnel Vision", focusing DISPORPOTIONALLY on extremes, and ignoring other important parts, unrealistic. [Tal's story about his getting one Cambridge fellowship] The importance and power of our evaluation. After we understand this, we can dispute it, challenge it, reframe it and see the positive side AS WELL.

Making up. Fabricating. Irrational personalization or blame, emotional reasoning. Should not take emotion as reality, it is what happens after evaluation.

The path we can take: through the questions we ask, we get real.

(Heuristic) Is my conclusion tied to reality ? Is it rational ? Am I ignoring something important ? What important evidence do I still need to take into consideration ? What am I magnifying ? What am I minimizing ? Am I making it up ? Am I ignoring anything that is going well ? Am I ignoring anything that is not going well ? What is the big picture ?

Conclusion: our evaluation becomes to certain extent a self-fulfilling prophecy.


The Question of Focus

A repetition, but a necessary one. [Ed Diener] After years of research, conclusion, it appears that the way people perceive the world is much more important to happiness than the objective circumstances. It is much more dependent on our state of the mind, where we choose to focus on. And it is up to us where we focus.

So, where am I focusing on right now ? And where to focus on ?

Do we celebrate successes or do we take it for granted ? Do we perceive failures and hardships as a disaster or as an opportunity for growth ? [Emerson] "to different minds the same world is a hell and a heaven." [Shakespeare, right to certain extent, which is the basic needs and freedom] "Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

Focus creating reality.

Again [counting geometric shapes test] focus creates certain reality. Focus on what's working PROPERLY, self-fulfilling prophecies. Focus on what's not working TOO MUCH, possibly anxiety and depression.[Dan Millman, Way of the Peaceful Warrior] Sam makes his own always the same sandwich, and keeps complaining about it.

Understand it and then we are able to transform.


Two archetypes: the Benefit-find model and the Fault-finder model, not talking about purely so but rather an advice that we could always try to move a little along the continuity towards the benefit-finder direction and respect reality. Fault finders resign, make lemons out of lemonade. Benefit finders find the silver lining in dark clouds. [William James, 1890] What we see the reality thus depends on the perspective into which we throw it.

Cognitive Reconstruction: learning to interpret things according to reality, and more often, to a more positive reality. Don't let crisis go totally wasted. Crucibles forge success in marriage and greatness in leaders. [Tal's story about an occasion after the financial crisis] Things don't necessarily happen for the best, but we are able to make good out of it, and someone are able to make the best. Mandela didn't ask for imprisonment for 27 years, yet he managed to make the best of it.

Tal's life interpreted from both perspectives of the fault finder and the benefit finder.

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30-09-2014, 02:56 AM
RE: My notes on Positive Psychology
Lecture 08 -- Appreciation and Gratitude

Focus: benefit finder (continued), appreciation, gratitude

Maybe it would be a while before I could find the benefit. And before I do, there's humiliation and pain. However, these feelings and failure are part of human experience. And that, too, shall pass.

Towards becoming more of a benefit finder, [1] feel better, [2] it starts not like "I am happy it happened", but rather "there are some positives in it", [3] less likely to have mental and physical symptoms, even for those with pre-existing conditions, [4] there can be interventions for more fault finder like people, [5] key is make the best of those not necessarily happen for the best.

[Nun longevity study] Only correlation with positive feelings. Then [1] Why are NOT we more optimistic, [2] How do we become more positive ? Because of factors like media that do a lot of eye catching with negative highlights, we somewhat have this notion that optimism equals detachment. [Ellen DeGeneres clip]. Actually the fault finders are detached, because there's much good in the world than bad. Much more. And, again, focus creates reality. Secondly, we are, by nature, change detectors, especially those negative ones that may affect our life. It's specially useful for our ancestors when they were living in the wild. Besides, we adapt, we won't react vigilantly to things we frequently see, like the clothes on us. [Tal's story about a friend lost] We adapt. We would get over it (negativity). We may also take it (positivity) for granted. [Story of a straitened Jewish man and his rabbi’s advice] Do things need to get so bad for us to appreciate what's right in front of us and all around us ? When do we begin to appreciate our health, our life ?

APPRECIATION. Ask: what kind of role can appreciation have in here ? Because, appreciation in essence create a growth spiral. [Genuine wow fantastic scene]. [Cancer patient study]. [AIDS patient study]. There always is something real to appreciate. [Marva Collins] Seed of greatness. [Pygmalion effect]. Yet we are able to change our schema with our conscious mind.



How do we change our schema ? On the societal level, shift to more good news. Why not start the day with [Good news network] in addition ? Arts, romantics, or even fictions and movies can help. Focus on what works, focus on what works best, and then democratize the tip of the stem. On the personal level, we can learn genuine gratitude as a way of life, starting by mindfully focusing on one or two things every day. [Brother David Steindl-Rast, About Gratitude] "Why not start by surveying a typical day ? What is it that you tend to tackle with spontaneous mindfulness, so that without effort your whole heart is in it ? Maybe it's the first cup of coffee in the morning, the way it warms you and wakes you up, or taking your dog for a walk, or giving a little child a piggyback ride. It is a matter of practice of doing over and over again till it becomes second nature.""Gratefulness is the measure of our aliveness. Are we not dead to whatever we take for granted ? Surely to be numb is to be dead. " [Emmon and McCullough studies] Those who have written 5 things grateful for performs best and are healthiest.

How to appreciate and not be that adaptive to the good things in life ? Maintain freshness. Introduce variety, different aspects. Mindfulness, creation of novel distinctions. Visualization, like kids.


Ending story: The story of Tal's grandmother. She survived Auschwitz and the hardship of having 3 stillborns out of 4 she gave birth to. She said she felt lucky and such a beautiful world.

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14-10-2014, 01:41 AM
RE: My notes on Positive Psychology
Lecture 09 -- Gratitude, Change


Appreciation and Gratitude. Tal's role model, his grandmother. While having experience the bad and dealing with its aftermath, she also connects herself to the positive.

Question: despite all the merits of being a benefit-finder, why don't all of us remain positive ? Largely because of media.

Question: What can we do as a counter measure ? Also expose ourselves to positive media, art and beautiful things. And be grateful. Tal's daily gratitude exercise. Key is to maintain freshness and mindfulness, visualize it like what children do. Children don't think in concepts like we do, so as we may take the beautiful night sky for granted, children admire it as if the stars only shone once in a thousand years. And then, change, chip away the excess stones, since understanding its virtues only does not suffice. [O'Hart Cummin's story] Making a list of things he was grateful for during depression in a bitter winter day was his turning point of life. Today we have convenient access to wonderful things. Be more mindful. Put it down. Our focus creates reality. So instead of writing a casual thank you note, please take some time, sit down and seriously think what we are thankful for, and then [Sonja Lyubomirsky] express it. Simple and straight forward (direct application of the appreciation theory) as it appears, it is by far the most effective intervention method. Write a gratitude letter and read it personally. Gratitude exercise is about replaying and re-experiencing.

More about the "express it" thing. [Sonja Lyubomirsky] People divided into 6 groups. For 3 groups of them, the task is to thinking about best experiences, then 2 groups out of these 3 express it in more outgoing ways, i.e. one group through talking about it and the other through writing about it (ABC, affect, behavior, cognition). Another 3 groups of them think about worst experiences, similarly, with one group only thinking, one group talking about it and one group writing about it. 3 days, 15 minutes a day. Except the group that only think about worst experiences, all others get better, both immediately and long-term-wise. Then mechanism is that when we analyze and make sense of our experiences, it helps. Rumination is a much less efficient way of making analysis and sense, if not making things worse. Yet does this even merely thinking about positive things contributes contradict the "permission to be human" thing ? No. Permission to be human is to let ourselves to experience all emotions as long as NECESSARY.


The brain turns out in many ways like a muscle. We can groove new things we've learned by practicing it repeatedly, replacing old ones. Two kinds: gradual change and quick change, for whichever kind decent preparation is necessary.

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