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Flourish_chaoter_two - Chapter 2 Creating Your Happiness...

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Unformatted text preview: Chapter 2 Creating Your Happiness: Positive Psychology Exercises That Work Here’s a brief exercise that will raise your well—being and lower your depression: The Gratitude Visit Close your eyes. Call up the face of someone still alive who years ago did something or said something that changed your life for the better. Someone who you never properly thanked; someone you could meet face-to—face next week. Got a face? Gratitude can make your life happier and more satisfying. When we feel gratitude, we benefit from the pleasant memory of a positive event in our life. Also, when we express our gratitude to others, we strengthen our relationship with them. But sometimes our thank»- you is said so casually or quickly that it is nearly meaningless. In this exercise, called the “Gratitude Visit,” you will have the opportunity to experience what it is like to express your gratitude in a thoughtful, purposeful manner. Your task is to write a letter of gratitude to this individual and deliver it in person. The letter should be concrete and about three hun— dred words: be specific about what she did for you and how it affected your life. Let her know what you are doing now, and mention how you often remember what she did. Make it sing! Once you have written the testimonial, call the person and tell her CREATING YOUR HAPPINESS you’d like to visit her, but be vague about the purpose of the meeting; this exercise is much more fun when it is a surprise. When you meet ' her, take your time reading your letter. Notice her reactions as well as yours. If she interrupts you as you read, say that you really want her to listen until you are done. After you have read the letter (every word), discuss the content and your feelings for each other. You will be happier and less depressed one month from now. Can Well-Being Be Changed? If positive psychology aims to build well-being on the planet, well- being must be buildable. That sounds trivial, but it is not. The behav— iorists of the first half of the twentieth century were optimists: they believed that if you could rid the world of the disabling conditions of life—poverty, racism, injustice—human life would be transformed for the better. Contrary to their insouciant optimism, it turns out that many aspects of human behavior do not change lastingly. Your waist- line is a prime example. Dieting is a scam, one that bilks Americans out of $50 billion annually. You can follow any diet on the bestseller list and within a month lose 5 percent of your body weight. I did the watermelon diet for thirty days and lost twenty pounds. i had diarrhea for a month. But like 80 percent to 95 percent of dieters, I regained all that weight (and more) within three years. Similarly, as we will see in the next chapter, much psychotherapy and many drugs are merely cos— metic, relieving the symptoms for a short time, followed by a dismay— ing return to square one. Is well—being like your waistlinem—just a temporary boost fOIIOWed by relapse to your usual curmudgeonliness—or can it be lastingly changed? Before positive psychology started a decade ago, most psy- chologists had become pessimistic about lasting changes in happiness. The hope that better externalities could make people lastingly happier was discouraged by a study of lottery winners, who were happier for a few months after their windfall but soon fell back to their habitual level of grouchiness or cheerfulness. We adapt rapidly to windfall, job promotion, or marriage, so theorists argue, and we soon want to trade A NEW POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY up to yet more goodies to raise our plummeting happiness. If we trade up successfully, we stay on the hedonic treadmill, but we will always need yet another shot. Not a pretty picture for the pursuit of well—being. If well—being could not be lastingly increased, then the aim of posi— tive psychology would have to be abandoned, but I believe that well- being can be robustly raised. So this chapter is about my search for exercises that actually make us lastingly happier. From the Buddha to modern pop psychology, there have been at least two hundred endeav- ors proposed that allegedly do this. Whichmif any—of these really produce lasting increases in well—being, which are temporary boosts, and which are just bogus? I am a “naughty thumb of science” person—an empiricist, in other words, who prods and pokes people to get at truth that we cannot see otherwise—and some of my earlier work involved testing therapies and drugs that make people less depressed. There is a gold standard for testing therapies—random-assignment, placebo—controlled studies: randomly assigning some volunteers to the treatment group (to receive the therapy under investigation) and other subjects to what’s called the control group (which is given either an inactive treatment or the cur- rent standard therapy). The random assignment of some individuals to the treatment and the others to the control group controls for inter» nal, confounding factors, such as being highly motivated to get bet— ter: the really unmotivated and the really motivated people should in principle get spread equally into both groups by randomization. And the placebo nature of the control group controls for external factors: an equal number of individuals in each group will do each treatment when it is raining or when it is sunny. So if the treatment works, and the experimental group improves more than the randomly assigned placebo~controlled group, the treatment is gold-standard “efficacious” and is indeed the actual cause of the improvement. The same logic holds for testing exercises that purport to increase well-being. So starting in 2001, the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania (which I direct; visit the website at www .ppc.sas.upenn.eduf) began to ask what actually makes us happier. In these studies, we did not measure all the elements of well—being, CREATING YOUR HAPPINESS ' but only the emotional element—increases in life satisfaction and decreases in depression. Here’s a second exercise to give you the flavor of the interventions that we have validated in random—assignment, placebo»controlled designs: What-Went~Well Exercise (Also Called “Three Blessings”) We think too much about what goes wrong and not enough about what goes right in our lives. Of course, sometimes it makes sense to analyze bacl events so that we can learn from them and avoid them in the future- However, people tend to spend more time thinking about what is bad in life than is helpful. Worse, this focus on negative events sets us up for anxiety and depression. One way to keep this from happening is to get better at thinking about and savoring what went well. For sound evolutionary reasons, most of us are not nearly as good at dwelling on good events as we are at analyzing bad events. Those of our ancestors who spent a lot of time basking in the sunshine of good events, when they should have been preparing for disaster, did not sur- vive the Ice Age. So to overcome our brains’ natural catastrophic bent, we need to work on and practice this skill of thinking about what went well. Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance (“My husband picked up my favorite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today”), but they can be important (“My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy”). Next to each positive event, answer the question “Why did this happen?” For example, if you wrote that your husband picked up ice cream, write “because my husband is really thoughtful sometimes” or A NEW POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY "because I remembered to call him from work and remind him to stop by the grocery store.” Or if you wrote, “My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy,” you might pick as the cause “God was looking out for her” or “She did everything right during her pregnancy.” Writing about why the positive events in your life happened may seem awkward at first, but please stick with it for one week. It will get easier. The odds are that you will be less depressed, happier, and addicted to this exercise six months from now. Aside from being a naughty~thumb type, I take my own medicine. When I did experiments with electric shock and dogs forty—five years ago, I first gave myself the shock, and I tasted the Purina Dog Chow the dogs fed on——which was worse than the shock. 80 when I thought up the what-went—well exercise, I first tried it on myself. It worked. Next I tried it on my wife and my children. It worked again. Next my stu— dents got it. Over the last forty—five years, I’ve taught almost every topic in psychology. But I have never had so much fun teaching, nor have my teaching ratings ever been so high as when I have taught positive psy— chology. When I taught abnormal psychology for twenty-five years, I could not assign my students meaningful, experiential homework: they couldn’t become schizophrenic for a weekend! It was all book learning, and they could never know craziness itself. But in teaching positive psychology, I can assign my students to make a gratitude visit or to do the whatwwent-well exercise. Many of the exercises that Work actually began in my courses. For example, after we had read the scholarly literature on gratitude, I asked the students to devise a gratitude homework exercise: hence, the grati- tude visit, which was dreamed up by Marisa Lascher. In five courses on positive psychology, I assigned students to carry out in their own lives the exercises we had thought up. What ensued was remarkable. I have never seen so much positive life change in my students or heard the sweetest words a teacher can hear—«life changing—used so often to describe the course. I then tried a new departure. Instead of teaching university stu— CREATING YOUR HAPPINESS dents, I taught professional mental health workers from all over the world about positive psychology. I gave four live telephone courses under the auspices of Dr. Ben Dean, who has made a profession of giving telephone courses on coaching for continuing education to _ licensed clinical psychologists. Each course was two hours per week for six months, and more than eight hundred professionals (includ- ing psychologists, life coaches, counselors, and psychiatrists) took my I course. Each week I gave a live lecture, and then I assigned one out of about a dozen positive psychology exercises for them to do with their patients and clients, as well as to practice in their own lives. Positive Psychology Interventions and Cases I was astonished by how well these interventions “took” even with very depressed patients. I know that testimonials are suspect, but, for what it’s worth, as a therapist and trainer of therapists for thirty years and director of clinical training for fourteen years, I had never encountered such a mass of positive reports. Here are three from the therapists who were new to positive psychology and were trying the exercises for the first time: CASE STORY The client is a thirty—six—year—old female who is currently under out- patient counseling and medication for depression (and is working fullwtime). I have been working with her for eight weeks and have basically been walking her through the telephone course in gener- ally the same sequence we have followed. One assignment that worked especially well: ”Three happy moments" (what—went—well). She mentioned that she had forgotten all of these positives from the past. We used this to transition to “blessings,” which we described as "happy moments every day,” which have helped her to see her daily life more positively. In short, everything has “worked” very well. Her scores on the A NEW POSITIVE ?SYCHOLOGY scales from the website are much more positive than before, and she credits the coaching process very strongly. CASE STORY The client is a depressed woman, middle—aged, morbidly obese, with underlying depression and blocks to her health and weight reduction. Among other interventions, she took the “approaches to happiness” test (AI-II, available online at wwwauthentiohappiness .org) about three months into therapy. She was working on bal— ancing her life using the ideas of flow, meaning, and pleasantries. She noted that she knew from the start that she had no flow in her life and that all of the meaning was defined by helping others and certainly not at all about herself and her needs and wishes (pleas- antries). After working hard for the three months, she took the test and was pleased to note that the three areas were quite in balance at about 3.5 on the scale of 5. She was thrilled and encouraged that there was a measure available to feedback her progress. She sum- marily made more plans to work with the three areas, adding all sorts of new ways to add more flow and meaning into her life. Therapists reported to me that getting their patients in touch with their strengths, rather than just trying to correct their weaknesses, was particularly beneficial. The crucial step in this process is systematic: it begins when patients take the Values in Action Signature Strengths (VIA) test (available in a short version in the Appendix and in the full version on the Authentic Happiness website, at www.authentic happinessorg). CASE STORY I’ve been working with Emma for about six years, with an interrup~ tion of one year. She came back two years ago following the death of one of her few friends. I have recently used a few positive psy- chology exercises/interventions with Emma, a severely depressed, suicidal client who has been abused in every way possible since she was a baby, up to and including present-day abuse. In the past few months, Ihave decided to use some of the positive psychology CREATING YOUR HAPPINESS material. I started her with the VIA Signature Strengths test in an effort to help her see the truth of who she is at her core, rather than who she has believed she is (no better than ”pond scum”). This survey was the launch pad and foundation upon which to build a clear reflection. It was a tool in which I used the metaphor of a clear image being reflected back from a clear mirror that I was holding up for her. It was slow going, but soon she was able to talk about each strength, see each strength as ”true" about her, see how some of the strengths get her into trouble, see where she uses the strengths to her benefit and the benefit of others, and see what strengths could help her to develop 1ess~developed strengths. Three days later, she came for her appointment with two pages in hand . . . with seven items and the steps she was willing to take. I cried all the way through the reading of those two pages, and she smiled the entire time. This is a woman who rarely if ever smiles! It was a moment of celebration, and beyond that, she was leap— ing over some of the most salient and challenging "stuck places" having to do with learned helplessness and all her other personal issues that have been a part of her work in therapy. I want you to take the test Emma took, the Values in Action Signer ture Strengths test, either in the Appendix or on my website and then we will do the exercise that started Emma on the road to recovery. Let me first tell you about why I constructed the website, which has all the major validated tests of the positive side of life, with feedback on where you stand. This website is free and is intended as a public service. It is also a gold mine for positive psychology researchers, much better for obtaining valid results than asking questions, as researchers usually do, of college sophomores or clinic volunteers. At this writing 1.8 million people have registered at the website and taken the tests. Between 500 and 1,500 new peeple register every day, and every so often I put up a link. One link is about exercises. People who go to this link are invited to help us test new exercises. First they take depression and happiness tests, such as the Center for Epidemiological Studies depression scale and the authentic happiness inventory, which are both on “wwauthentichappiness.org. Next we A NEW POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY randomly assign them to a single exercise that is either active or a pla- cebo. All exercises require two to three hours over the course of one week. In our first web study, we tried six exercises, including the grati- tude visit and what—went—well. Of the 577 participants who completed the baseline question— naires, 471 completed all five follow-up assessments. We found that participants in all conditions (including the placebo—control condi« tion, which was to write up a childhood memory every night for a week) were happier and less depressed one week after they received their assigned exercise. Thereafter, people in the control condition were no happier or less depressed than they were at baseline. Two of the exercisesw—what-went-well and the signature strengths exercise below—markedly lowered depression three months and six months later. These two exercises also substantially increased happi— ness through six months. The gratitude visit produced large decreases in depression and large increases in happiness one month later, but the effect faded three months later. Not surprisingly, we found that the degree to which participants actively continue their assigned exer— cise beyond the prescribed oneuweek period predicted how long the changes in happiness last. Signature Strengths Exercise The purpose of this exercise is to encourage you to owu your signature strengths by finding new and more frequent uses for them. A signature strength has the following hallmarks: - A sense of ownership and authenticity (“This is the real me”) - A feeling of excitement while displaying it, particularly at first . A rapid learning curve as the strength is first practiced - A sense of yearning to find new ways to use it - A feeling of inevitability in using the strength (“Try to stop me”) CREATING YOUR HAPPINESS - Invigoration rather than exhaustion while using the strength - The creation and pursuit of personal projects that revolve around it - Joy, zest, enthusiasm, even ecstasy while using it Now please take the strengths survey. If you do not have access to the web, you can go to the Appendix and take a brief version of this test. On the website, you will get your results immediately and can print them out if you like. This questionnaire was developed by Chris Peter— son, a professor at the University of Michigan, and has been taken by more than a million people from two hundred nations. You will have the benefit of being able to compare yourself to other people like you. As you complete the questionnaire, pay most attention to the rank order of your own strengths. Were there any surprises for you? Next, take your five highest strengths one at a time and ask yourself, “Is it a signature strength?” After you have completed the test, perform the following exercise: this week I want you to create a designated time in your schedule when you will exercise one or more of your signature strengths in a new way either at work or at home or in leisure—just make sure that you create a clearly defined opportunity to use it. For example: . If your signature strength is creativity, you may choose to set aside two hours one evening to begin working on a screenplay. - If you identify hope/optimism as a strength, you might write a column for the local newspaper in which you express hope about the future of the space program. - If you claim self—control as a strength, you might choose to work out at the gym rather than watch TV one evening. - If your strength is an appreciation of beauty and excellence, you might take a longer, more beautiful route to and from work, even though it adds tw...
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