Archive for December 19th, 2007

Think you can predict your future happiness?

Guess again.

A number of studies have consistently shown that we all incorrectly predict whether or not something in the future will make us happy.

Here’s one quick example.

Associate professors were asked to estimate their overall level of happiness if they made tenure or were denied it. The results of the study? It found (at least in the short term) that those who were given tenure were less happy than they expected, and those professors who were denied tenure were actually happier than they predicted.

Think about that the next time you consider changing jobs or buying a new car. Will you be as happy as you think you will be? Probably not.

The same is true, by the way, for overly pessimistic predictions. We tend to be both overly optimistic and pessimistic. In fact, psychology author and researcher Dan Gilbert says that most events in our lives have a small impact that don’t last very long. Whether they are good or bad, happy or sad — we get over them eventually.

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Fear can be a useful emotion. It might protect us by causing a “fight” of “flee” reaction to a threatening environment. But there’s a downside to this type of “negative” emotion. Studies show that the heightened cardiovascular activity from the fight-or-flight situations — especially if large, recurrent, or prolonged — can place individuals at risk for coronary heart disease.

Can positive emotions mitigate or reverse the cardiovascular effects of negative emotions?

Several years ago researchers sought an answer to that question. Their findings — positive emotions do indeed affect the cardiovascular system. But here’s what’s interesting — it’s not so much what positive emotions do to the system; it’s what they can undo. When negative emotions have already generated cardiovascular stress the positive emotions can bring a person’s heart levels back to its base level.

In other words, thinking positive thoughts, repeating meditative mantras or implementing calm breathing techniques during duress do work. They can bring down your stress level, thereby reducing your risk of coronary heart disease.

Source: The Undoing Effect of Positive Emotions by Barbara L. Fredrickson, Roberta A. Mancuso, Christine Branigan and Michele M. Tugade

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Resilient individuals tend to experience positive emotions even during stress.

That was the conclusion reached by researchers Michele M. Tugade and Barbara L. Fredrickson several years ago after studying how and why some people “bounce back” from stressful situations and others don’t.

The researchers looked at stress in both the laboratory setting and in daily life. They discovered that people at both ends of the resilience spectrum (high and low) both experienced frustration when faced with a problem they described. The difference between the two, however, surfaced in their emotions. High-resilient people reported higher levels of a positive mood, even while being frustrated. They also reported feeling more eagerness, excitement, happiness and interest during that same time, especially compared to low-resilient individuals.

The researchers call this effective “emotion regulation” — the ability to keep an even keel when all hell is breaking loose. Thus, they say positive emotions amidst stress can have some real advantages in the coping process.

In other words, even under the most stressful and trying situations — find a way to be positive. You can and will bounce back.

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