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.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Positive Psychology: Week 1, Part 2

You can read part 1 here.

GREAT LEAP OF INSIGHT: FROM LEARNED HELPLESSNESS TO LEARNED OPTIMISM
Learned helplessness is fascinating to me. He describes the dogs in the laboratory that he and two other psychologists were working with when they discovered this concept. The dogs would hear a sound and then a shock would be administered (I know, this is hard for me to think about as I am an animal lover). But even when the dogs were transferred to a new setting where they could easily jump over a low barrier to escape the shock, they didn't. They remained. They learned to be helpless.


They discovered that more important than Pavlovian conditioning is learning that nothing you do matters. They took three groups of dogs. One group received a shock that lasted 5 seconds, no matter what. The second group received a shock that they could stop by pressing a paddle with their nose. The third group received no shock at all (control). When each of the three groups were transferred into an area where they could easily escape the shock by jumping over a low barrier to escape the shock, every group did except the first group who had learned that they would get a shock no matter what. Even when in a new environment, they had learned to be helpless.



How much control do you feel you have over bad events in your life? If you feel you have control, then you behave normally. But if you feel you have bad events that you cannot do anything about, then you collapse. You fail to escape, and you fail to learn. You fail to even try to do anything to improve the situation.



Seligman repeated this same experiment using people in the 1970's. Instead of a shock, they heard a loud noise that they heard no matter what (group one), that they could stop by pressing a button (second group), or control group. The same thing happened. People who had escapable noise in the beginning learned to move their hand to make it stop. 

Trauma or bad events do not in themselves produce helplessness. The crucial factor is inescapable trauma. In learned helplessness, a person has learned that when bad things happen, nothing they do matters. So they give up and remain passive, even after conditions change and they actually do have control over their environment.

HOW DO PEOPLE EXPLAIN BAD EVENTS? RISK FACTORS AND PROTECTIVE FACTORS FOR DEPRESSION
In these studies on learned helplessness, only 2/3 or dogs, rats and then people became helpless. About 1/3 could not be made helpless, no matter what. Dr. Seligman and his team began to investigate why and what protects people from helplessness. 

They began to look at personality.

They found three dimensions to the way people look at bad events that determine whether they will have protection or vulnerability from helplessness.
  1. When a bad event occurs, do you think it is temporary, or permanent?
  2. Do you view the bad event as local or everywhere? 
  3. In general, are bad events controllable or uncontrollable?

HEALTH IS A SKILL: LEARNED OPTIMISM 
Optimism is a protective factor against learned helplessness, while pessimism is a risk factor for it. Large scale, long term studies of depression were conducted. Thousands of children age 10-12 were surveyed on their optimistic or pessimistic viewpoints and then followed over the years and then decades. Those who were pessimistic had between 2 and 8 times the risk of having depression. 

Seligman was working at the time with Aaron Beck on cognitive therapy. This is the part that really interests me, because I can apply it in my job as a school counselor. Cognitive therapy for depression aims to take themost pessimistic thoughts that people have (I'm unlovable, I'm stupid, things will never work out) and challenge those thoughts. 
So for example, you are a 12 year old girl and you walk into the cafeteria and all of your friends are sitting in a different place and they don't ask you to sit with them, and you say to yourself, “no one likes me. I'm a loser.” So what you do with the 12 year old in cognitive therapy is to say, well, what's going on with those girls over there? Maybe they're all members of the volleyball team and I'm not on the volleyball team. So you teach children and adults to dispute their most catastrophic thoughts, and when they dispute their most catastrophic thoughts and become very good arguers against catastrophic thinking, that is the heart of cognitive therapy of depression, the most effective psychological treatment of depression. So that set the stage for asking the question that we'll talk about in the next lecture of what happens if you systematically teach pessimistic children and pessimistic adults the tools of disputing their catastrophizing explanatory style. The short answer is you statistically prevent depression and anxiety. 
Key point: Optimism is a skill that can be learned. Teaching people to realistically challenge their pessimistic explanatory style and to learn optimistic explanatory skills reduces anxiety and depression and increases resilience.

In this second part, Martin Seligman then relays a personal story on how he came to shift his perspective and focus of study from the alleviation of misery and suffering to well-being. The year was 1997, and he was weeding with his 5 year old daughter.  
I was in my garden, weeding with my five-year-old daughter, Nikki, Nicole, and I'm a serious gardener and when I weed, I'm weeding. Those of you who do weeding, know it's no fun at all, you can't even get a routine going for weeding. And so I'm sitting there weeding and Nikki is having a wonderful time, she's throwing weeds in the air and dancing and singing, and I shouted at her, I said “Nikki get to work!” She looked up at me and she looked puzzled, walked away and came back and said, “Daddy, can I talk to you?” I said, “sure Nikki.” So Nikki said to me, “do you remember that since my fifth birthday I haven't whined once? On my fifth birthday, Daddy, I decided that I wasn't going to whine anymore. And that was the hardest thing I've ever done. And if I can stop whining, you can stop being such a grouch.” 
Epiphany for me, three things I realized in that moment: 
First, that indeed Nikki hit the nail on the head, that I was a grouch. That I, indeed, was a nimbus cloud whose main strength was critical intelligence. I could see everything that was wrong with everything, and somehow I had attributed my success in the world, whatever I had, to my ability to say no. But it occurred to me, really for the first time, that it might have had something to do with what I could say yes to. 
So Nikki got it just right about me, and I decided to stop being such a nimbus cloud. Secondly, Nikki told me that my theory of child development, I have seven children, was wrong. The view that psychology had of child development, in which you want to find all the things they're doing wrong and correct them and somehow, magically, if you get rid of everything that's wrong, you get an exemplary child, well, that actually makes no sense at all. Nikki had just shown not the absence of a negative, but the presence of a positive, that is the ability to talk to an adult, to make sense of an adult. 
So it occurred to me that child-rearing should be not about eliminating the negatives, but identifying and building what's best, the strengths in children. And the third thing I realized was that my profession, psychology, was half-baked- that the part that had been baked and the part that I was proud of was the alleviation of suffering, but the part that was unbaked, the part that was missing, was a psychology of well-being. 
A psychology of well-being. Why wasn't there a psychology of well-being?
Dr. Seligman introduces the acronym PERMA. This is what people who are not suffering choose.

Here is where I completely fail at blogging by cutting and pasting for you. When I try to summarize, I leave too much out, and let's face it, anything I write is not going to explain the concept better than the man himself. Plus, these are essential to happiness and I don't want to short-change ya. 


Well-being Theory
Happiness is a slippery concept. Sometimes it seems to us like the Holy Grail: mythical, wonderful, but probably unobtainable. But Positive Psychology suggests that happiness is more than obtainable. It is the natural result of building up our well-being and satisfaction with life. Professor Martin Seligman spent many years developing a theory of happiness. He wanted to identify the building blocks of well-being. He drew up a five-sided model of well-being called the PERMA model.
These are the five elements Seligman found essential to human well-being:
Image result for perma

Each of these elements is essential to our well-being and satisfaction with life. Together, they form the solid foundation upon which we can build a happy and flourishing life.
Positive Emotion
When someone asks you whether you are satisfied with your life, your answer depends heavily on the mood you are in. When you are feeling positive, you can look back on the past with gladness; look into the future with hope; and enjoy and cherish the present.
Why?
Positive emotions have an impact that goes far beyond bringing a smile to our faces. Feeling good helps us to perform better at work and study; it boosts our physical health; it strengthens our relationships; and it inspires us to be creative, take chances, and look to the future with optimism and hope. Feeling good is contagious. Seeing smiles makes us want to smile. Hearing laughter makes us feel like laughing. And when we share our good feelings with others, they appreciate and enjoy our company.
We have all experienced highs and lows in life, but we are doing ourselves harm when we dwell on the lows. If we look back on the past with pain and regret, we will become depressed. If we think of the future and worry about danger and risk, we become anxious and pessimistic. So it is incredibly important to recognise the positive emotions we feel, so that we are able to enjoy the present without worry and regret.
How?
What is it that makes us feel good? It might be spending time with friends and family, engaging in hobbies, exercising, getting out in nature, or eating great food. We need to make sure there is always room in our lives for these things. Positive Psychology research has identified certain skills and exercises that can boost our experience of positive emotions. We can learn to feel them more strongly, and to experience them for longer. Cultivating positive emotions makes it easier to experience them naturally. Many of us have an automatic tendency to expect the worst, see the downside, and avoid taking risks. If we learn to cultivate positive feelings about life, we begin to hope for the best, see the upside, and learn to take great opportunities when they come along.
Engagement
We don’t thrive when we are doing nothing. We get bored and feel useless. But when we engage with our life and work, we become absorbed. We gain momentum and focus, and we can enter the state of being known as ‘flow’. In Positive Psychology, ‘flow’ describes a state of utter, blissful immersion in the present moment.
Why?
In a word: momentum. When you are lying in bed, it is often hard to convince yourself to throw off the covers and plant your feet on the ground. You worry about the cold. You feel tired and sluggish. You lie in bed, thinking but not getting anywhere. But when you are running, you don’t question anything. You are flying through space: one foot goes in front of the other, and again, and again, because it must. You are absorbed entirely in the present moment.
Not everyone enjoys running, but perhaps you feel this way when you are playing music, painting, dancing or cooking. If you have a job you love, you probably feel this way at work. We are most likely to fulfill our own unique potential when we are engaged in activities that absorb and inspire us.
How?
Much of the work of Positive Psychology involves identifying and cultivating personal strengths, virtues and talents. When we identify our own greatest strengths, we can consciously engage in work and activities that make us feel most confident, productive and valuable. We can also learn skills for cultivating joy and focus on the present. Mindfulness is a valuable skill taught by many counselors. Using mindfulness, you can learn to develop a full and clear awareness of the present, both physically and mentally.
Relationships
Humans are social animals. We have a need for connection, love, physical and emotional contact with others. We enhance our own well-being by building strong networks of relationships around us, with family, friends, coworkers, neighbours and all the other people in our lives.
Why?
You know the saying, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’? Well, it gets even better. Happiness shared is happiness squared. When we share our joy with those we love, we feel even more joy. And when we love, we become more loveable.
We depend on the people around us to help us maintain balance in our lives. When we are alone, we lose perspective on the world, and we forget that others may be bearing greater burdens than our own. But when we let other people into our lives, we remember to give as well as take. When you belong to a community, you have a network of support around you – and you are part of it.
How?
It is important to build and maintain relationships with the people in your life, but it is equally important to recognise the difference between a healthy relationship and a damaging one. Some relationships are dangerous because they are one-sided or co-dependent. Other relationships struggle because people take each other for granted, don’t make time for each other, or can’t seem to communicate.
The key to all relationships is balance. It is not enough to surround ourselves with ‘friends’ – we must also listen and share, make an effort to maintain our connections, and work to make those connections strong.
Meaning
We are at our best when we dedicate our time to something greater than ourselves. This could be religious faith, community work, family, a political cause, a charity, a professional or creative goal.
Why?
Studies have shown that people who belong to a community and pursue shared goals are happier than people who don’t. It is also very important to feel that the work we do is consistent with our personal values and beliefs. From day to day, if we believe our work is worthwhile, we feel a general sense of well-being and confidence that we are using our time and our abilities for good.
How?
What do you value most in this world? It might be family, or learning, or your faith. Perhaps you feel strongly about helping disadvantaged children, or protecting the environment. Once you have identified what matters most to you, find some like-minded people and begin working together for the things you care about. You can find meaning in your professional life as well as your personal one. If you see a deeper mission in the work you do, you are better placed to apply your talents and strengths in the service of this mission.
Accomplishment
We have all been taught that ‘winning isn’t everything’. Yes, we should strive for success, but it’s more important to enjoy the game. However, people need to win sometimes. What use are goals and ambitions if we never reach them? To achieve well-being and happiness, we must look back on our lives with a sense of accomplishment: ‘I did it, and I did it well’.
Why?
Creating and working toward goals helps us anticipate and build hope for the future. Past successes make us feel more confident and optimistic about future attempts. There is nothing bad or selfish about being proud of your accomplishments. When you feel good about yourself, you are more likely to share your skills and secrets with others. You will be motivated to work harder and achieve more next time. You may even inspire the people around you to achieve their own goals.
How?
It is important to set yourself tangible goals, and keep them in sight. In Positive Psychology counseling, we encourage you to identify your ambitions and cultivate the strengths you need in order to reach them. Regular counseling is a great way to keep focused on your long-term goals and acknowledge the little successes along with the big ones. It is vital to cultivate resilience against failure and setbacks. Success doesn’t always come easy, but if we stay positive and focused, we don’t give up when adversity strikes.


No comments:

Post a Comment