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Archive for January 28th, 2008

Could positive psychology techniques help reduce the effects of depression?

That was the theory leading to a series of preliminary studies by renowned psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman a few years ago. Seligman and his team wanted to know if they could use a more proactive approach than just targeting depression’s symptoms to get better results.

As a result, they studied the lives of more than 300 college students at the University of Pennsylvania, some of whom were categorized as clinically depressed.

Specifically, the researchers wanted to know if three intervention components would make much of a difference. Those components were having positive emotions, being engaged, and having a “meaningful” life.

Positive emotions included attitudes about the past, present and future and learning skills to amplify both the intensity and duration of these emotions. The idea of engagement came from another researchers idea of “flow” — that state of mind in which a person is totally involved and absorbed in something important to him or her. And finally, a “meaningful life” meant a person was using his or her signature strengths and talents to serve something that was bigger than themselves, such as church or their family.

Using several different exercises, the researchers followed the attitudes of the participants over a period of one year.

They found that the positive psychology exercises relieved depression symptoms for at least six months compared with no intervention, and they decreased levels of mild-to-moderate depression over a one year period.

The researchers would be the first to note that the study sample was small and may not reflect larger populations. And no one is saying these techniques are the best and only way to relieve depression symptoms. In fact, pharmaceutical interventions continue to have the most dramatic improvement in the lives of millions of depressed individuals.

Still, the results show promise. Positive psychology interventions could very well make a difference to people in dire need of treatment.

Source: Positive Psychotherapy. Seligman, Martin E. P., Rashid, Tayyab, Parks, Acacia C., American Psychologist, Vol. 61, Issue 8

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When it comes to friendships, is quantity or quality better for your overall well-being?

Researchers have demonstrated convincingly that friendships matter when it comes to happiness. In fact, some studies have suggested that the number of friends was positively related to happiness. Implicit in these findings is that a person would be happier if he or she had more friends.

But other researchers took a different look — not at quantity, but quality. They wanted to know if there were different kinds of friendships that contributed to one’s happiness and which feature was the strongest predictor.

To learn more, they surveyed 280 college students (192 women and 88 men). They ran them through a variety of questionnaires to better understand their feelings and attitudes about friendships.

What they found may or may not surprise you.

First, they found that a “best friendship” environment significantly predicted happiness compared to the overall number of friends. Thus, even though one might have several friendships, it is the best friend that contributes most to one’s happiness.

They also found that if the best friendship was low in quality, the high quality of the other close friends did not make a difference in the happiness of that person. In other words, best friends matter more, even if the relationship is not as strong as it could be.

Third, they found that intimacy is not the reason best friendships matter in terms of happiness. It’s companionship that matters. This makes sense since other studies show that activities contribute to a person’s happiness and they are often the result of some companionship, not necessarily intimacy.

What does all of this mean?

It means a person doesn’t need a large number of friends to be happy, nor do those friendships require intimacy. Instead, combine companionship with a best friend and the result will likely be greater overall well-being.

Source:  Looking to happy tomorrows with friends: Best and close friendships as they predict happiness. Melikşah Demir, Metin Özdemir and Lesley A. Weitekamp. Journal of Happiness Studies. Vol. 8. No. 2, June 2007

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Simple things make us happy.

That deceptively simple and obvious observation has now been backed up by research conducted last year in England at the University of Nottingham.

Researchers wanted to compare the happiness “levels” of lottery jackpot winners with a control group. Using what’s called the “Satisfaction with Life Scale,” people in both groups were asked how satisfied they were in comparison to different elements in their life, their different moods, and how often they treated themselves .

Despite how we all think we would act, the reserachers found that it wasn’t the flashy cars that dramatically increase one’s happiness level. Instead, it was reading a book, enjoying a bottle of wine or listening to music that really made a difference.

The results are interesting for one other interesting fact — lottery jackpot winners were on the whole happier than non-winners (95 percent of them said they were positive about their life compared with 71 percent in the non-winner group).

Thus, even though they were happier becaue of their winnings, both groups shared a greater interest in cost-free indulgences, such as a long bath, playing games or enjoying their hobby. Those who described themselves as being less happy didn’t those the cost-free indulgences.

The researchers concluded — spending time relaxing is the secret to a happy life. “Cost-free pleasures are the ones that make the difference.”

Source: Source: Millionaires. ScienceDaily

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Does a combination of positive events and circumstances result in happiness or does a happy mindset result in positive circumstances?

Researchers have struggled with that question and it’s an important one. Many self-help books tell us that if we just change our thinking, then success and happiness will follow. But what if it’s the other way around? What if you must first do things to improve your overall well-being, with your initial attitude being irrelevant or minimal? Which approach is most accurate? If someone is unhappy, which path should one pursue?

To answer this question, several years ago researchers looked at both at the same time, putting nearly 200 psychology students through a series of tests. Specifically, they wanted to see what impact four areas of daily life would have on one’s perception of their happiness — their physical health, the amount of daily hassles in their lives, their overall view of the world, and their way of thinking that deals with real-world situations and problems.

What did their research lead them to conclude?

They concluded that happiness works both ways and that there is no single “secret.” For example, they found that the more daily hassles a person reported, the lower his or her reported level of happiness. Similarly, people who reported high levels of physical symptoms also tended to report high levels of daily hassles and see the world as being less benevolent — both of which contribute to less than optimal level of well-being.

At the opposite end, the research showed that if someone had a general disposition towards happiness or life satisfaction, then they tended to report fewer daily hassles, better physical health, and seemed to cope better with real-world situations. In that case, the personality caused the others to occur.

This early research in happiness is consistent with more recent studies which suggest one’s level of happiness is a combination of genes, circumstances and direct control. In other words, happiness is a combination of who you are, where you are and what you do. While psychologists debate the percentage of each one of those “slices” of the happiness pie — what is clear is this: the cause and effect works both ways. It helps to have a happy disposition, but it’s not a necessity. Doing certain things can improve one’s overall well-being, in spite of any hardships, circumstances or personality influences that may stand in the way.

Source: Integrating top-down and bottom-up structural models of subjective well-being: A longitudinal investigation. By: Feist, Gregory J., Bodner, Todd E., Jacobs, John F., Miles, Marilyn, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 68, Issue 1

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