Browsed by
Category: Happiness

A Trait More Powerful Than Self Esteem

A Trait More Powerful Than Self Esteem

For several decades now, psychologists, educators and the media have touted the benefits of high self-esteem.  A recent search on Amazon.com showed that there are 17,931 books on the topic with more added each day.

And there’s good reason for this, having high self-esteem is related to many positive benefits such as reduced instances of depression and anxiety and greater optimism.

However, it may be that this faith in the power of our own self images is misplaced as much research also shows that people high in self-esteem are often defensive in the face of negative feedback, can be narcissistic and may not always take responsibility for their actions (Baumeister, Campbell, Krueger, Vohs).

You might call this “unhealthy” high self-esteem since not all people with high self-esteem have these negative traits.

However, over the past 10 years or so researchers uncovered another positive trait that has many of the benefits we seek from self-esteem but without the drawbacks: self-compassion.

Self-compassion is defined as “being kind toward oneself in instances of pain or failure; perceiving one’s experiences as part of the larger human experience; and holding painful thoughts and feelings in balanced awareness (mindfulness).” (Neff, Rude, Kirkpatrick)

People high in self-compassion react to negative feedback with more acceptance and with an orientation towards growth and the development of mastery.  People low in self-compassion react in opposite ways: they reject negative feedback and often fail to learn from it.

People high in self-compassion tend to have less negative emotions when distressing events occur and take more responsibility for these events.  As a result, they are also more willing to make needed changes.

I think you get the picture.  High self-compassion is a very good thing.

So how can you get more of it?  The study below gives one answer to that question. (Leary, Tate, Allen, Hancock)

In this study 115 college students ages 17-21 were put into three groups.  One group was to write about a negative event that happened to them and then think about it in a self-compassionate way using three different prompts.  A second group was to write about a negative event and answer prompts designed to raise self-esteem.  A third group just wrote about a negative event to “get their feelings out.”

Researchers found that those who wrote about the event in the self-compassion condition were able to “acknowledge their role in negative events without feeling overwhelmed with negative emotions.”  This was surprising as when people take responsibility for negative events they often have strong negative feelings.

In other experiments described in the same paper students high and low in self-compassion were given feedback on a video taped public speaking task.  They were given negative feedback and positive feedback by two separate raters regardless of how they performed.  And those high in self-compassion again experienced less negative emotions than those low in self-compassion.

What these experiments show is that you can actually become more self-compassionate with yourself with a simple exercise and gain all the benefits of greater objectivity, reduced negative feelings and a greater ability to learn from your mistakes.

Here’s how to do it:

First, think of a negative event in your life that still makes you feel bad.  Then answer the following prompts each of which focuses on a component of self-compassion – (1) common humanity, (2) self-kindness, (3) mindfulness.

1.  List ways in which other people experience similar events.

2.  Write a paragraph expressing kindness, understanding and concern towards yourself the way you would for a friend going through the same type of experience.

3.  Describe your feelings about the event in an objective and unemotional fashion.

I’ve already tried this exercise a few times and I am pretty impressed with how much better I feel about some past events.

Try this exercise yourself and describe your results below.

A Scientifically Proven Technique That Causes You To Live Life To The Fullest

A Scientifically Proven Technique That Causes You To Live Life To The Fullest

[The subject of this post seemed very appropriate for the last day of the 30 Day Blog Challenge as you’ll see by the end.]

Almost everyone wants to be happier.  But unfortunately the things that make us happy today become habitual and lose their ability to lift our moods – a phenomenon called hedonic adaptation.

Gratitude exercises can often help us to overcome this adaptation.  But there’s an even more powerful technique for increasing happiness discovered by Dr Jaime L. Kurtz.  I describe her research below.

She got together 67 students from the University of Virginia who were about 6 weeks away from graduating.  She divided them into three groups.

One group was to write about why they are grateful for various college experiences given that they have “a lot of time left.”

Another group was told to write why they are grateful for various college experiences given that they have “little time left.”

A third control group was told to write about what they do on a typical day.

At the end of the study the group that wrote about gratitude from the perspective of having little time left was happier.

Why?

One reason may be that they savored the remaining experience of college more.  Another reason may be even more powerful.  They actually engaged in more college activities during those final weeks.

Kurtz concluded that thinking that those last 6 weeks was a short time caused them to have a “now or never” mindset.  So they spent more time with friends and did more activities because they knew they wouldn’t get a chance later. In short, the lived the end of their college life to the fullest.

And this may be why they were so much happier than the other groups.

So to increase your enjoyment of life experiences focus on the fact that they will one day end.  Think about how little time you have left to do something and not only will you appreciate it more, but you may take actions that you’d regret not having taken later on.

So since this is the end of this post, and the end of me posting every day for the Thirty Day Blog Challenge, why not leave me a comment.  You might be glad you did.

Reference to study above:

Psychological Science 2008 Dec;19(12):1238-41.
Looking to the future to appreciate the present: the benefits of perceived temporal scarcity. Kurtz JL.

Could This Video Lower Your Stress In 60 Seconds?

Could This Video Lower Your Stress In 60 Seconds?

The short answer according to recent research is yes.

Having animals around you has been known for many years to lower stress.  However, researchers wanted to know if just watching videos of animals would lower stress as well.

So they assembled volunteers and put them into three groups.

One group watched videos of animals.  Another group watched a soap opera and a final group watched a blank screen.  Each group was then exposed to a stressor – reading aloud to an audience.

The groups that watched a soap opera or a blank screen had high levels of stress.  The group that watched the animal videos appears to be much less stressed by the experience of reading aloud.

So researchers concluded “that videotapes of certain animals can reduce cardiovascular responses to psychological stress and may help to buffer viewers from anxiety…”

So if you want to prevent stress in just 60 seconds find a cute video of an animal on Youtube and just enjoy.

What do you think of this research?  Will you try this idea today?  Leave me a comment below.

Does Kissing Lower Cholesterol?

Does Kissing Lower Cholesterol?

Researchers wanted to know the answer to this question.  So they brought together a diverse group of 52 adults in committed relationships.  Half of this group was instructed to kiss more often for a full six weeks, the other half was not.

After six weeks each person had their blood cholesterol measured and took a questionnaire.  Each member of the “increased kissing” group had their cholesterol go down.  The control group experienced no change.

It’s also interesting to note that there were other positive side-effects of increased kissing.  One is that those who kissed more tended to exercise more, experience less conflict in their relationships and improved communication.

So kissing more often has many benefits besides just feeling good.

But why does kissing lower cholesterol?

Researchers determined through a special kind of analysis called ANCOVA that the increased exercise, reduced conflict and improved communication did not cause the change in cholesterol.

Only stress correlated perfectly with the reduction in cholesterol for each participant.

This is a finding similar to that of other studies showing that a reduction in stress leads to a reduction in cholesterol.

So if you want to lower your cholesterol, start kissing more often.  Or if you know someone that needs to keep their hearth healthy, let them know about this study.  Unlike exercise, this is a commitment that anyone with a partner would enjoy keeping.  And best of all there are no negative side effects.

What do you think of this study?  Please leave a comment below.

Reference to study above:

Floyd, K. , Boren, J. P., Hannawa, A. F., Hesse, C. , McEwan, B. L. and Veksler, A. E. , 2008-11-21 “Kissing in Marital and Cohabiting Relationships: Effects on Blood Lipids, Stress, and Relationship Satisfaction” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the NCA 94th Annual Convention, TBA, San Diego, CA Online <PDF>. 2010-06-06 from http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p246054_index.html

How To Reduce Stress In 3 Minutes By Watching A Simple Video Study Shows

How To Reduce Stress In 3 Minutes By Watching A Simple Video Study Shows

Did you know that you can relieve stress in minutes merely by viewing a short video?

A report in the Journal of Environmental Psychology shows how.

Researchers got 120 college students and had them watch a stressful accident prevention video which showed simulated mutilation among other stressful contents.  Each person’s stress level was then measured.

After watching the video half the participants watched a film of pedestrians walking in an urban environment.  The other half watched a scene in a natural environment.

Researchers discovered that those watching the nature film had their stress go down in just 3 minutes.  Those watching the urban films had their stress levels continue to rise.

According to these researchers one of many theories that explains this result is that natural environments that have lush vegetation and water signaled to our ancestors that we were in a safe environment in which food would be plentiful.

Other studies have shown that after doing very demanding tasks, that merely looking at photos of nature can restore your ability to pay attention to the next task.

Once I learned of the power of nature to relieve stress and restore my ability to focus, I changed my desktop theme and screensaver to natural images.  I also make sure that I do my runs on the nearby trail instead of just running around the block.  I’m also planning on adding at least one plant to my office and to my living room.

So how do you plan to use this information to help yourself?

Besides the ideas I’ve mentioned above you may want to consider looking at slide shows of nature or nature videos during your breaks from work.

One great source I use are the nature slideshows at SlideShare.net.  You can see one of them at this link:

http://www.slideshare.net/elejol/nature-slideshow

Please comment on these ideas below.

Note: The research shows that the images of nature do not need to be spectacular to produce positive results.

Reference to the study above:

Stress Recovery During Exposure to Natural and Urban Environments
Journal of Environmental Psychology, Volume 11, Issue 3, September 1991; Roger S. Ulrich, Robert F. Simons, Barbara D. Losito, Evelyn Fiorito, Mark A. Miles, Michael Zelson

How Subtracting The Positive Can Make You Happier Today

How Subtracting The Positive Can Make You Happier Today

A lot of research suggest that thinking about positive events in your life can make you happier.  And that the effect of these kinds of gratitude exercises diminishes if done too often as people adapt to the positive events (I discuss a creative solution to this dilemma below).

The authors of a recent study write:

Having a wonderful spouse, watching one’s team win the World Series, or getting an article accepted in a top journal are all positive events, and reflecting on them may well bring a smile; but that smile is likely to be slighter and more fleeting with each passing day, because as wonderful as these events may be, they quickly become familiar—and they become more familiar each time one reflects on them.

They cite research that shows that the more people think about a positive event, the more it seems explainable.  And the better they understand positive events the less positive emotion they feel about those events.

They go on to further state:

In short, counting one’s blessings—thinking about the presence of the positive events in one’s life—may have only a minor impact on people’s current affective states, to the extent that they have adapted to these events.

So if you’ve already gotten used to how wonderful your wife or husband is for example, thinking more about now it won’t increase your happiness much in the long term.

One solution to this is to think about new things you are grateful for often.  But these researchers tested a much more powerful and innovative solution.

They wondered if there is a way to “unadapt” to positive events?  Is there a way we can make ourselves feel a fresher feeling of happiness for the things we’ve gotten used to?

So they tried the following experiment:

They got 120 college students and put them into two groups.  Group one was asked to describe the ways in which the event happened easily and how it was not surprising the event happened as it did.

Group two was asked to describe why the event may never have happened and why it’s surprising that it did happen.

Participants then answered a questionnaire to see how positive they felt about the events they described.  It turned out that group two had many more positive feelings about these events than group one and experienced an increase in positive feelings overall – something group one did not experience.

Researchers concluded:

…people who wrote about how positive life events might not have occurred reported improved affective states, whereas people who wrote about how positive events did occur, simply described positive events, or did not think about positive events did not report improved affective states

So thinking of how a good event might not have happened makes you happier, something I was surprised to discover.

What do you think of this finding?  Does is surprise you?  When will you use this information to get you to increase your appreciation for some of the good things that have happened to you?

Reference to study above:

It’s a Wonderful Life: Mentally Subtracting Positive Events Improves People’s Affective States, Contrary to Their Affective Forecasts
Minkyung Koo, Sara B. Algoe, Timothy D. Wilson, and Daniel T. Gilbert

What’s The One Simple Change You Can Make That Changes Everything Else In Your Life?

What’s The One Simple Change You Can Make That Changes Everything Else In Your Life?

Over 20 years ago researcher Barbara Fredrickson set about studying something that no one else in psychology had studied in depth – positive emotions.

She discovered some startling facts about them.  Here are just a few.

  • Positive emotions broaden your thinking and your awareness of your internal world and the external world.
  • They also build resilience, your ability to bounce back from negative events.
  • They increase your creativity, persistence and openness to others among other benefits.

Collectively she calls all 10 of the positive emotions she studied positivity which is also the name of her book in which she explains her research to us regular folk.

However, it wasn’t until she met another researcher named Marcial Losada that she and he uncovered a specific ratio of positive to negative emotions that can unlock your hidden potential.

What this means is that how often you experience positive feelings as compared to how often you experience negative feelings is important to how well you function.  And they found that people function best when they have at least 3 positive emotions for every 1 negative.

People who achieve this ideal 3:1 happiness ratio live in a condition called “flourishing mental health.”  They live longer, are happier, more successful, have better relationships, are less likely to get ill and are more satisfied with their lives.

After Fredrickson and Losada discovered this 3:1 ratio and how powerful it was, Fredrickson decided to see if she could help people raise their happiness ratio.

She conducted a study of 139 adults half of which were assigned to a 7 week workshop on loving kindness meditation and encouraged to practice daily the other to be part of a wait list control group.   Fredrickson’s idea was that a daily dose of positive emotions might increase the amount of positivity experienced by participants and build the internal resources I mentioned above.

Loving kindness meditation is a guided meditation practices that involves directing loving feelings towards oneself, ones that are close to you, strangers and finally all beings.

The study showed that the group that attended the meditation workshops and practiced regularly had increases in positive emotions such as love, joy, gratitude, contentment, hope, pride, amusement and awe.  Their self-acceptance increased, their relationships and health improved and life satisfaction improved as well.

This data shows that you can increase how many happy feelings  you have in life… and validates Fredrickson’s theory that increasing those happy feelings improves your life in many other ways.

Ever since reading her book Positivity, I’ve been spending more of my time doing things that produce joy for me and taking her happiness test at PositivityRatio.com every day to measure my progress.

I’ve found that my life seems a bit lighter and more fruitful since then.  I go for walks and just pay attention to the trees and grass.  I spend more time writing.  I spend more time with friends.  I started meditating again.  I’ve noticed that things that bothered me before bother me less now.  I feel like I’m able to face problems I’ve shied away from in the past.  I actually feel younger too.

Before reading Fredrickson’s book, I thought that focusing on work would allow me to achieve things that would give me the free time to do what I want… and I thought the ultimate goal of that quest for achievement would make me happy.

Now I realize that I need to achieve high levels of happiness now so that I’m more likely to achieve my goals.  And becoming happier is so much fun.  It’s the best goal I’ve ever had.

If you find that you want to raise your positivity ratio to get to 3:1 or at least find out where you stand you may want to visit her website and take the positivity test.

You’ll also find examples of people whose lives were changed by focusing on increasing their positivity.  These success stories may be more inspiring to you than the research that proves that these results apply to anyone who engages in positivity on purpose.

Now that you’ve finished reading, will you leave me a comment below?  I’d love to hear what you think of this post.

Too Much Happiness? Science Shows That Doing Too Much Of This Popular Happiness Technique Is Counterproductive

Too Much Happiness? Science Shows That Doing Too Much Of This Popular Happiness Technique Is Counterproductive

Most people say they’d love to be happier.  However, some of what people think they need to be happy such as money and possessions are only shown to increase happiness for a short time (this study is a good example of this).

Others try exercises that many believe will make you happier.  Some of these techniques are validated by scientific research.  Some are not.

But few are aware that a powerful two-minute technique that’s proven to make you happier can be done to the point that it’s counterproductive.

So what is this 2-minute technique?

It’s a simple gratitude exercise.

You’ve probably heard about this kind of exercise before.  One way of doing it is to merely list 3-5 things you are grateful for.  But you may not have heard one simple fact about it that can allow you to get much more out of it.

Sonia Lyubomirsky, a prominent research psychologist, and her colleagues did an interesting study that shows us how to get the maximum out of our two minutes.

They had one group of people write down three things they were grateful for three times a week and another group of volunteers wrote what they were grateful for only once a week.

Most people thought that doing this exercise more often would produce more happiness.

It did not.

Those who only did the exercise once a week were much happier than those that did it three times.

The explanation.

That if you do the exercise too often, you get used to it and it no longer has as much impact on you.

So to be happier try making a weekly practice of writing down three things you are grateful for once a week.  That’s all it takes to improve your happiness.

And if you really want to know why you should make happiness a top priority consider reading Barbara Fredrickson’s book Positivity. In this book she tells you how happiness builds many of your internal resources.  You become more creative, smarter, more energized and behave better.  The list goes on and on.

She also tells you a very powerful principle regarding a happiness “tipping point” that we all have.  Once you get enough happiness in your life some startling things begin to happen.

I’ll tell you more about this in my next post tomorrow.

Meanwhile, will you try expressing your gratitude in writing once this week?

Consider beginning your weekly gratitude practice today by leaving me a comment about one of the things you’re grateful for below.

References:

Pursuing Happiness: The Architecture Of Sustainable Change

http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~sonja/papers/LSS2005.pdf

Lottery Winners And Accident Victims: Is Happiness Relative?

http://education.ucsb.edu/janeconoley/ed197/documents/brickman_lotterywinnersandaccidentvictims.pdf