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Archive for the ‘Positive psychology’ Category

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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Simply put — positive emotions broaden one’s thinking.

Given the opposite environment — one in which negative emotions emerge — this makes perfect sense. What do people express when they are in a funk or depressed? They say they can’t think of anything else; their thought processes narrow. Many people in that situation even say even their vision narrows — the “looking through a narrow tunnel” syndrome.

Now, researchers have confirmed that the opposite occurs when positive emotions exist. They say that people who experience positive emotions “show a style of broad-minded coping in which they step back from the current problems and consider them from multiple angles.”

Obviously, that approach comes in handy during a stressful situation. People in a positive state are more likely to reappraise the situation in a positive light and be more goal-directed. They are also more likely to infuse ordinary events with positive meaning, which in turns help them survive or thrive despite adversity.

As corny as it may sound, Norman Vincent Peale got it right — the power of positive thinking rests in its ability to broaden, not narrow, our thoughts, perceptions and actions. If you want to change your actions, change your emotions first.

Source: Positive emotions broaden the scope of attention and thought-action repertoires. Barbara L. Fredrickson and Christine Branigan. Cognition and Emotion 19 (3), 313-332 (2005)

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“She flourished in her new job.”

If there’s one word that encapsulates much of the research surrounding happiness it would be flourishto live within an optimal range of human functioning.

But what is that optimal range and can it be proven?

In 2005 two researchers concluded that the optimal level of flourishing existed when the number of genuine positive emotions outpaced the number of negative emotions by a ratio of 3-to-1 (actually 2.9). They came to that conclusion after analyzing the daily reportings of about 200 people over a period of one month.

Interestingly, the researchers said that other studies indicate that only about 20 percent of the U.S. population are flourishing at any given time. The rest, they say, are “languishing.”

Did they detect an upper limit? Researchers Frederickson and Losada believe inappropriate or non-genuine positive emotions disrupt this delicate balance of well-being. They also said that appropriate negative emotions are a critical ingredient within human flourishing.

In summary, the researchers said optimal human flourishing has four key components: goodness, generativity (meaning broad and flexible behavior), growth and resilience.

In other words, to be happy is to flourish.

Source: Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing by Barbara L. Fredrickson and Marcial F. Losada, American Psychologist

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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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Positive emotions not only help people today, but lay the groundwork for happiness tomorrow.

Researchers continue to build evidence supporting that common-sense idea. One of the latest — the broaden-and-build theory proposed by Barbara Frederickson at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ms. Frederickson and her colleagues say that unlike negative emotions, which narrow people’s thoughts and actions, positive emotions broaden them. Thus, a person begins to think and act in new and novel ways, which in turn leads to an increase in personal resources. The researchers believe that as individuals bring these new ideas and actions into their daily life, they build an even greater array of physical, intellectual, social and psychological resources. This, in turn, leads to more positive emotions — a continuous upward spiral that contributes to a person’s overall well-being.

How can this knowledge help people? It suggests that to feel happier in the long run — begin feeling positive literally one day at a time. Each day of positive emotion becomes like a deposit in the bank that over time generates enormous psychological wealth.

Source: Positive Emotions Trigger Upward Spirals Toward Positive Well-Being by Barbara L. Frederickson and Thomas Joiner

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A recent study strongly suggests that positive thinking has no impact on cancer survival rates. Here’s an article on the study.

The newly published study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine looked at 1,093 patients with head and neck cancer who were asked to complete quality-of-life questionnaires during their treatment. A total of 646 patients died during the study follow-up. Even after acounting for other variables that could affect survival, a patient’s emotional state was found to have no bearing on whether or not the person lived or died, according to the study. According to behavioral scientist James C. Coyne, PhD, who led the study team, this research supports a growing amount of research that shows no scientific basis for the popular notion that an upbeat attitude is critical for “beating” cancer.

That’s not to say that cancer patients shouldn’t remain upbeat and participate in group forums, meditation and other activities to relieve any pain and suffering, but the research does appear to conclude there is little evidence that positive thinking alone directly affects cancer growth.

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