Because the important moments in life just don’t fit in a status update! I started this blog when I was training for my first ½ Ironman, (70.3 miles) to record what I hoped would be growth and progress but ended up being a huge learning experience. Although fitness is one of the key ingredients to a happy life, it certainly isn't the only ingredient. My blog has evolved to document growth, progress and setbacks in other areas too. From my surprise proposal in Rome and wedding in the fall of 2013, to Mom's devastating stage IV cancer diagnosis and death 2 weeks after I found out I was pregnant. Who knows what shape it will take, but thanks for being along for the ride.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Positive Psychology: Week 1, Part 1

Did you know that you can take college classes for free (unless you want to pay for a certificate) at major universities across the world through Coursera? I did it awhile back, before I became a Mom. It was titled: The Bible's Pre-History, Purpose and Political Future and they lost me at Pre-History. It was too in-depth for me, and I stopped after the first week.

But I am absolutely loving the Positive Psychology course I recently enrolled in. It's a free, 4 week course that consists of about 4-6 hours per week. You work at your own pace. It doesn't start until June 12th, so you have time to it with me! 

I have long had an interest in the Positive Psychology movement, but I've been out of graduate school now for just over 10 years. In that time, this movement has really risen to the forefront of the field. And Dr. Martin "Marty" Seligman, is the founder of Positive Psychology and also the Penn Positive Psychology Center. What I love about this course is that the lecture videos are actually of Marty Seligman lecturing at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is a professor. It's the real deal. 

Here are my cliff notes of what I learned in the first lesson of the first week. If you don't have time to enroll in the course, I'll share with you what I learn here. I'm gearing up for my three days of bed-rest that I will hopefully have if we have embryos to transfer in about two weeks!

The field of Psychology started out being dominated by psychoanalysis and behaviorism in the 1960's. Although parts of each may be used today, they are both outdated and not subscribed to by anyone in the field 100%. In college, it used to bother me when people would ask me my major then respond with "So are you going to psychoanalyze me?" when I said Psychology. As a consequence, they usually had to listen to my more-lengthy-than-needed explanation that I don't like Freud and most of his ideas have since been discounted.

While very different, the focus of both of these views was what could be done to reduce misery and conflict. They were also both highly deterministic, believing that your past history, particularly your childhood, determined your future. The third premise they shared was that consciousness, what went through your head, was really not much interest. In the case of behaviorism, it didn't exist and in the case of psychoanalysis, what was behind what went through your head was the rolling emotions underneath. 
Cognition was the foam on the wave of the emotional life, so there was no reason to take cognition or consciousness, seriously. And importantly for both psychoanalysis and behaviorism: there was no such thing as virtue, no such thing as the good life, no such thing as happiness, no such thing as a future. The future was merely determined by the past. 
With these two dominate schools of thought, there were some major blind spots. Happiness, free-will, virtue and consciousness were excluded. These four concepts are the focus of the course. 

He then goes on to explain that we are "bad weather animals" and how for our survival, this has served us well and kept us alive.
The most recent geological epoch that we lived through, the Pleistocene, was the ice ages- famine, flood, ice, drought, more ice. Now imagine a primate mentality that thought it's a lovely day today out there, I bet tomorrow it's going to be really lovely as well. That mentality got crushed by the ice. The mentality that survived, the brains that you have are bad weather brains. The brain that says, looks like a nice day out there, but tomorrow the ice is coming. Those are the brains you have, and that is the way indeed you process, automatically, information about a good world. Depression, anger, paranoia have served us very well. In the ice ages, it was a very good idea to think that bad stuff was coming,
 As a result, we are all living with a strong negativity bias, summed up really well in this cartoon video. It's only two minutes. Watch it and tell me you don't see this in your own life. I know I do.  

After this introduction to positive psychology, the course shifts gears to a biography of Marty Seligman. You can read that here if you're interested. 

In the simplest sense, positive psychology refers to what we want for ourselves and our world. We want: to feel good, close relationships with our family and friends, to use our unique abilities in ways that help us succeed and make the world a better place. We want our lives to hold meaning.

Positive psychology uses the scientific method to study these topics and try to understand what makes us flourish and identify concrete steps we can take to increase our well-being. 

Clinical psychology used to focus exclusively on what we don't want. But treating mental illness is not the same as promoting mental health. Getting rid of what we don't want in our lives (depression, anger) does not then automatically bring what we do want (joy, meaning).
When I was a child, my family had a garden on my grandparent's farm. I spent a lot of summers pulling weeds out of that garden. But if we had not also planted vegetables and flowers, we would not have had a garden at all, just a field of dirt. Intentionally planting and cultivating the corn, tomatoes, zucchini, and zinnias we wanted to grow was an essential part of having a good harvest. 
This basic sense of the positive is pretty easy to understand. It's not just the absence of the negative, it refers to things we value like joy, serenity, courage, optimism, altruism, peace, perseverance, creativity and love. And these things don't automatically come by fighting against sadness, anxiety, fear, selfishness, boredom and hatred, they have to be cultivated and nurtured. Things gets rather complex though, once we move beyond a basic understanding of positive in positive psychology. In part, this is because it’s difficult to separate the positive from the negative in our lives. Can you think of something that happened in your life that, at the time you would have labeled negative but looking back on it you would now label positive?  

The ideas in Positive Psychology are not new. For milenia and across cultures, religious figures, poets, musicians, artists, philosophers and historians have explored these questions. Confucius, living in China 2,500 years ago, was an early influential thinker who considered these questions. Born in Greece shortly after Confucius' death, Socrates applied the rigorous methods of inquiry developed by philosophers to the investigation of how to live life well. In turn, he had influence on Plato who wrote on many topics including virtue, justice, courage, piety, truth, pleasure, creativity and love. Plato's most famous student was Aristotle, who wrote extensively about human flourishing and the character needed to achieve it.  

More recently, as psychology has emerged as a separate discipline in the last 150 years, questions of how to live life well have guided the work of many psychologists such as William James who studies 'healthy-mindedness', Abraham Maslow, who emphasized the importance of self-actualization.

The field pf Positive Psychology arose at the end of the 20th century when psychologists like Marty Seligman began developing ways of studying various aspects of the positive human experience scientifically, instead of relying merely on introspection or case studies.

Could anything be more important than this? I'm pretty excited to continue the lesson even though it's pretty late right now.

The next lesson in week one will be my next bog entry, but here's the material: 

A Great Leap of Insight: from Learned Helplessness to Learned Optimism

Seeds of Flourishing: The Personal in Parallel with a Developing New Field
7 min

Key Point: Learned Helplessness
3 min

How Do People Explain Bad Events? Risk Factors and Protective Factors for Depression
5 min

Health is a Skill: Learned Optimism
6 min
Discussion Prompt: What makes life worth living?
15 min

Key Point: Optimism can be learned
5 min

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