Posts Tagged ‘Positive Psychology’

Take me out to the… prom?

April 13, 2013

Walked past Vandy’s Hawkins Field yesterday and noticed that they’d be hosting my undergrad alma mater Mizzou this weekend. Didn’t make it out last night, Older Daughter’s softball doubleheader in Columbia (on the other side of a soul-destroying traffic jam on I-65) had us out too late.  Arrived at last, as the sun lowered over Zion’s bucolic country ballpark carved out of the cornfields as in Field of Dreams. We weren’t in time for her near-homer in the first game (reported by Uncle D.) but did get to enjoy her pair of  crushed line drives & ribbies in the second.

She’s too hard on herself, though, later recapping the action by recalling instead a pair of inconsequential Ks against a tough pitcher. We must all continually learn and recall the lessons of positive psychology, and as parents (& teachers) we must continually teach them. We write our own narratives, let’s not bury the happy leads.

So, Commies & Tigers this afternoon maybe? But I’m told the senior prom, which in my day involved parents only minimally and grudgingly, would likely monopolize our afternoon and early evening. Have to see the kids, all gussied up in their formal-wear, get formally “presented.”

Oh well. Wasn’t really sure who I was going to root for at The Hawk anyway. I know who I’m rooting for at the prom.

A happy, meaningful, productive life

September 20, 2011

We come now, in SOL, to consider suffering, ego, and negative emotion as treated in Matthieu Ricard’s Happiness. And, again, to Martin Seligman. His new book, Flourish, is on our short list of candidates for November. We’ll be voting soon. [Guardian reviewHappiness Institute reviewnyt review]

Ricard clearly thinks more highly of the founder of Positive Psychology (in its latest American Psychological Association incarnation, as heralded by Seligman in 1998) than Barbara Ehrenreich did in Bright-sided.  In chapter 9 he writes:

[Seligman’s Positive Psychology Center at Penn] was an attempt to broaden psychology’s field of study beyond its longstanding traditional vocation to investigate and, where possible, correct emotional dysfunction and mental pathologies… While it is certainly important to treat psychological problems that handicap or even paralyze people’s lives, it is essential to note that happiness is not the mere absence of unhappiness… It is therefore necessary not only to rid oneself of negative emotions but also to develop positive ones.

Ricard gives credit where due, to William James’s Psychology. [WJ on Attention]

Buddhism prescribes rigorous training in introspection… This discipline is close to the concept of “sustained, voluntary attention” developed by William James… Buddhist meditators have found that attention can be developed significantly…

And, it can counteract the mental “poisons” of desire, hatred, delusion, pride, and envy. It can show us the door to inner transformation.

Seligman was featured in Sunday’s New York Times magazine. I think I begin to detect a pattern, in his public utterances, of backing away from Positive Psychology towards something he expects us to regard with greater favor. In this piece it’s “character,” supposedly built through adversity and setback.  What if the Secret to Success is Failure?:

David Levin, the co-founder of the KIPP network of charter schools and the superintendent of the KIPP schools in New York City, went to Seligman’s office expecting to talk about optimism. But Seligman surprised [him] by pulling out a new and very different book, which he and [Michigan psych professor Christopher] Peterson had just finished:“Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification,” a scholarly, 800-page tome that weighed in at three and a half pounds. It was intended, according to the authors, as a “manual of the sanities,” an attempt to inaugurate what they described as a “science of good character.”

What’s “the ultimate product of good character”?:

A happy, meaningful, productive life.

By any other name, that’s a positive outcome.


December 4, 2010

It’s cold and gray out there this morning. A good day to pull out a favorite piece of inspiration from William James, and hang it up with the holiday decorations:

Remember when old December’s darkness is everywhere about you, that the world is really in every minutest point as full of life as in the most joyous morning you ever lived through; that the sun is whanging down, and the waves dancing, and the gulls skimming down at the mouth of the Amazon, for instance, as freshly as in the first morning of creation; and the hour is just as fit as any hour that ever was for a new gospel of cheer to be preached.

I am sure that one can, by merely thinking of these matters of fact, limit the power of one’s evil moods over one’s way of looking at the cosmos.

Sure beats Barbara Ehrenreich and “Dr. Steel,” Jamie. Go gulls!

Hey Marty

October 11, 2009

Before we take up the contrarian anti-happiness views of Eric Wilson, it would be good to give a listen to Martin Seligman. He’s the guy who, along with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi,  really got the current  Positive Psychology boomlet started a few years ago. (His TED talk.)

It’s always good to practice the (misleadingly-named) art of “negative capability“– the very positive attempt, lifted from the poet Keats,  to hold disparate perspectives in mind simultaneously without a premature (“irritable”) rush to judgment.

Wilson and Seligman may not really be disagreeing in a big way at all, though. Seligman defends authentic happiness, Wilson criticizes something clearly counterfeit.

The 40% solution

August 8, 2009

Sonja Lyubomirsky says in The How of Happiness that half of happiness is “set” by genetics and 10% by “circumstances,” leaving a full 40% subject to our constructive, creative, intentional activity. “Thus the key to happiness lies not in changing our genetic makeup (which is impossible) and not in changing our circumstances (i.e., seeking wealth or attraction or better colleagues, which is usually impractical), but in our daily intentional activities… what we do in our daily lives and how we think.”

Putting the vagueness of those numbers aside, this is the good news Positive Psychology brings: we possess “untapped potential for increasing our own happiness.” (Here’s how she explained it on ABC’s chirpy 20/20, and at the Google campus.) Happiness, “the Holy Grail, ‘the meaning and purpose of life,’ as Aristotle famously said, ‘the whole aim and end of human existence,’ ” is ours for the taking. 40% is a lot of leverage.

But isn’t there something unseemly and narcissistic about this movement? Lyubomirsky’s epigraph is the Mary Oliver poem “The Journey,” addressing a subject who “finally knew what you had to do” and turned away from other voices and their bad advice, “determined to save the only life that you could save.”  Sounds pretty self-absorbed.

But, “happier people are more sociable and energetic, more charitable and cooperative,” they live longer, they do more good. “If we become happier, we benefit not only ourselves but also our partners, families, communities, and even society at large.”  We owe it not just to ourselves but to everyone else to brighten up. Lyubomirsky says the new  science of happiness can tell us how. So that’s where we’ll begin in Happiness 101.