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Life is Good: Insights from The Science of Happiness Bill O’Hanlon www.billohanlon.com.

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Presentation on theme: "Life is Good: Insights from The Science of Happiness Bill O’Hanlon www.billohanlon.com."— Presentation transcript:

1 Life is Good: Insights from The Science of Happiness Bill O’Hanlon

2 What is Positive Psychology? Research evidence about what works in human life; what makes people happier; what gives their lives a sense of satisfaction and meaning; what helps them function better; Also called “Subjective Well-Being”

3 There are some benefits of happiness Happy people: Are half as likely to die over the same time period as others Danner, D.D., Snowdon, D.A. & Friesen, W.V. (2001). “Positive emotions in early life and longevity: Findings from the Nun Study,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80: Diener, Ed and Seligman, Martin. (2002). “Very happy people,” Psychological Science, 13: Half as likely to be disabled Live longer than average Have better health habits Have lower blood pressure Have more robust immune systems Are more productive on the job Are able to tolerate more pain

4 There even seem to be economic benefits to happiness Cheerful college students ended up earning $25,000 more per year than their dour counterparts. King, Laura and Lyubomirsky, Sonja. (2005). “The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success?” Psychological Bulletin, 131:

5 Happiness is relatively stable One year after winning the lottery or becoming quadriplegic, people’s happiness level return to where they were before the drastic change of circumstance (Happiness Set Point; genetically influenced but not fixed) Brickman, P.; Coates, D.; and Janoff-Bulman, R. (1978). “Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36: There are some things that seem to permanently increase happiness levels People are generally pretty bad at predicting what will make them happy

6 Psychological studies are biased toward the negative Psychological publications and studies dealing with negative states outnumbered those examining positive states by a ratio of 17 to 1 in a survey done in Myers, D. and Deiner, E. (1995) “Who is Happy?,” Psychological Science, 6:10-19.

7 The Power of Negative Thinking “I was going to buy a copy of The Power of Positive Thinking, and then I thought: What the hell good would that do?” –Ronnie Shakes

8 The essence of this approach  Discover what works and what’s going well  Focus on what can enhance rather than merely fix human life  Focus on resources rather than problems  Identify and enhance strengths

9 Seligman’s List of Virtues/Signature Strengths: Six areas [The Reverse-DSM] Wisdom and Knowledge Courage Love and Humanity Justice Temperance Spirituality and Transcendence Find this list and some self-tests at:

10 Wisdom and Knowledge Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge

11 Courage Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal

12 Love and Humanity Interpersonal strengths that involve “tending and befriending” others

13 Justice Civic strengths that underlie healthy community life

14 Temperance Strengths that protect against excess

15 Transcendence Strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and thereby provide meaning

16 Happiness is challenging "The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” –Benjamin Franklin

17 Problems with deliberately pursuing happiness We are bad at predicting what will make us happy We overestimate the negative effects of bad stuff We overestimate the lasting happiness/satisfaction that will result from good stuff Our preferences change Habituation/the hedonic treadmill

18 But all is not lost; one can increase happiness (but not directly) Happiness is not achieved by the conscious pursuit of happiness; it is generally the by-product of other activities. –Aldous Huxley

19 Four Keys to Unlock Happiness S.O.A.P. S ocial Connections O ptimism A ppreciation (Gratitude) P urpose (greater than oneself)

20 S.O.A.P. S ocial Connections and Happiness

21 Social connections and happiness Countless studies document the link between society and psyche: people who have close friends and confidants, friendly neighbors, and supportive co-workers are less likely to experience sadness, loneliness, low self-esteem, and problems with eating and sleeping. The single most common finding from a half century's research on the correlates of life satisfaction, not only in the United States but around the world, is that happiness is best predicted by the breadth and depth of one's social connections. Putnam, Robert D Bowling alone: the collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon & Schuster, p. 332)

22 Relationships “By far the greatest predictor of happiness in the literature is intimate relationships.” – Sonja Lyubomirsky, researcher at UC- Riverside, author of The How of Happiness

23 Social connections can help reduce PTSD Being with someone else during an earthquake is protective against PTSD Armenian, H. et. Al. (2000). “Loss as a determinant of PTSD in a cohort of adult survivors of the 1998 earthquake in Armenia: Implications for policy,” Acta Psychiatr. Scand., 102(1): Post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers in group treatment recovered at a significantly higher rate (88.3%) than those in individual treatment (31.3%) Beck, J. et.al. (2009).“Group Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Chronic Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: An Initial Randomized Pilot Study,” Behavior Therapy, 40(1):82-92.

24 Positive social talk matters The amount and type of parental talk to infants varied between disadvantaged families and those who had higher incomes and education Disadvantaged parents generally talked less than advantaged (10 million words vs. 80 million words) Disadvantaged parents directed more “discouragements” (no; shut up; stop) to their kids (200,000 vs. 80,000 “encouragements” [chit chat; positive comments; gossip; joking; running commentary; praise]) Advantaged parents had a reversal of this ratio (500,000 encouragements to 80,000 discouragements) It turns out that these differences have profound and hard to reverse effects on intellectual and academic achievement (vocabulary growth and standardized intellectual achievement tests measured at ages 3 and 9) Hart, B. and Risley, T. (1995). Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company

25 Social connections are at risk in modern societies Shared family dinners and family vacations are down over a third in the last 25 years Having friends over to the house is down by 45% over the last 25 years Participation in clubs and civic organizations is down by over 50% in the last 25 years Church attendance is down by about a third since the 1960s Putnam, Robert D. (2000). Bowling Alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon & Schuster. See also:

26 Social connections are at risk in modern societies 65% of Americans spend more time with their computers than with their spouses Kelton Research, the "Cyber Stress" study, Digital Home Services, Parks 2007

27 Even in severe poverty, social connections help happiness levels Robert Biswas-Diener and Ed Diener surveyed life satisfaction of the homeless and prostitutes living in the slums of Calcutta and found that healthy bonds with family and good social relationships were correlated with higher life satisfaction levels. Biswas-Diener, R. and Diener, E. (2001). “Making the best of a bad situation: Satisfaction in the slums of Calcutta,” Social Indicators Research, 55,

28 Relevant research Happily married couples say 5 positive remarks for every negative remark, even when having conflicts Couples who are headed for divorce use less than 1 (0.8) positive remarks for every negative one Source: Gottman, J., Gottman, J. And DeClaire, J.(2006). 10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage. NY: Crown.

29 S.O.A.P. O ptimism and Happiness

30 Optimism and Happiness What we can learn from some psychotically optimistic dogs

31 Good to know Optimistic and pessimistic styles and tendencies are relatively stable traits, but they can be affected by actions and changed focus of attention One study found that even naturally pessimistic people who spent one week doing exercises in which they: Identified and wrote down times in the past in which they were at their best Wrote down their personal strengths Expressed gratitude to someone they had never properly thanked Wrote down three good things that happened that day Were happier when their happiness levels were measured 6 months later Seligman, M., Stern, T., Park, N & Peterson, C. (2005). “Positive Psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions,” American Psychologist, 60:

32 Creating or restoring hope Rehabilitating or inviting people into preferred, compelling positive futures

33 Elspeth McAdam... A young girl I was working with had experienced abuse. She walked into my office as a very large girl with shaved hair, tattoos on her head, and I don't think she had showered in a week. I had been asked to see her because she was so angry. She clearly didn't want to come and see an expletive expletive shrink. She was very angry at being there. I just said to her, 'You've talked to everybody about your past. Let's talk about your dreams for the future.' And her whole face just lit up when she said her dream was to become a princess. In my mind I could not think of two more opposite visions–but I took her very seriously. I asked her about what the concept of princess meant for her.

34 Elspeth McAdam She started talking about being a people's princess who would do things for other people, who would be caring and generous and a beautiful ambassador. She described a princess who was slender and well dressed. Over the next few months, we started talking about what this princess would be doing. I discovered that, while this girl was 14 and hadn't been attending school for a long time, the princess was a social worker. I said, 'Okay it is now ten year's time and you have trained as a social worker. What university did you go to?' She mentioned one in the north of England. I asked, 'What did you read [study] there?' She said, 'I don't know, psychology and sociology and a few other things like that.' Then I said, 'Do you remember when you were 14? You'd been out of school for two or three years. Do you remember how you got back in school?'

35 Elspeth McAdam She said, 'I had this psychiatrist who helped me.' I said, 'How did she help you?' And she started talking about how we made a phone call to the school. I said, "Who spoke? Did you or her?' She replied, 'The psychiatrist spoke but she arranged a meeting for us to go to the school.' I said, 'Do you remember how you shook hands with the head teacher when you went in? And how you looked and what you wore?' We went into these minute details about what that particular meeting was like– looking from the future back. And she was able to describe the conversations we had had, how confident she had been, how well she had spoken, and the subjects she had talked about. I didn't say any more about it.

36 Elspeth McAdam About a month after this conversation she said to me, 'I think it's about time we went to the school, don't you? Can you ring and make an appointment?' I asked if she needed to talk about it anymore and she said no, that she knew how to behave. When we went into the school she was just brilliant. I first met that girl ten years ago. Now she is a qualified social worker. She fulfilled her dream–although she didn't go to the university she mentioned.

37 Letter From The Future Write a letter from your future self to your current self from a place you are happier and have resolved the issues that are concerning you now From [five years/two months/ten years/one year] from now; let your intuition and their response guide the time frame; adjust as necessary Describe where you are, what you are doing, what you have gone through to get there, and so on Write about the crucial things you realized or did to get there or write about some crucial turning points that led to this future Give yourself some sage and compassionate advice from the future

38 Letter From The Future Use these questions to guide their letter writing: What have you learned and gained perspective on since back in [fill in the present date/year]? What things were you worried or frightened about in those days that seem trivial or far away for you today? What problems seemed overwhelming or insurmountable in those days that you did eventually resolve or overcome? What sage advice would your future self give to that present self? What comfort or reassurance would your future self give to your present self? Who were you troubled by, frightened by or concerned with that now doesn’t matter as much?

39 S.O.A.P. A ppreciation and Happiness

40 Three Aspects of Appreciation 1. Highlighting Gratitude to Oneself: Note to oneself things that one can be grateful for on a weekly basis 2. Savor: Note to oneself or others what one appreciates aesthetically, like a beautiful sunset, a good meal, and so on 3. Expressing Gratitude to Others: Express appreciation to those people one values and is grateful to

41 Appreciation Awe Gratitude Thankfulness Recognizing grace (unearned blessings) Showing and expressing appreciation to others Mindfulness Savoring

42 Ricky Boone Who blessed you?

43 Exercise: Finding/identifying angels, mentors and models Who has taken a special interest in you and encouraged you? Who believes or believed in you? Who has been/is your mentor? Who have been your inspirational models? Who has blessed you? Who has been your angel?

44 The Gratitude Exercise At the end of each day, after dinner and before going to sleep, write down three things that went well during the day. Do this every night for a week. The three things you list can be relatively small or large in importance. After each positive event on your list, answer in your own words the question: “Why did this good thing happen?” This exercise was found to increase happiness and decrease depression up to 6 months after the week. [Note: 60% of participants carried on the habit.] Seligman, M.; Steen, T.A.; Park, N.; and Peterson, C. (2005). “Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions,” American Psychologist, 60:

45 Gratitude/appreciation Expressing gratitude has a short-term positive effect (several weeks) on happiness levels (up to a 25% increase) Those who are typically or habitually grateful are happier than those who aren’t habitually grateful Park, N. Peterson, C. and Seligman, M. (2004). “Strengths of character and well- being among youth,” Unpublished manuscript, U. of Rhode Island.

46 Gratitude Letters In research studies, both initiator and recipient of a gratitude letter report positive outcomes. Instructions: Write a gratitude letter to a person you choose, expressing your gratitude and for what and why, specifically, you are grateful. If at all possible, deliver it personally and ask the person to read the letter in your presence. If personal delivery is not possible, mail, fax, or the letter and follow up with a phone call. Source: Chris Peterson, A Primer in Positive Psychology

47 Savoring Savor: To appreciate fully; enjoy or relish - American Heritage Dictionary Pay full attention; engage Use as many of the senses as you can (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell) Don’t multi-task; focus on what you are experiencing or perceiving Don’t overdo; savoring diminishes due to the hedonic adaptation if done too much or too often Share it with others

48 Three Types of Savoring Anticipating something good [Future- oriented savoring] Enjoying something in the present moment [Present-oriented savoring] Remembering something pleasurable from the past [Past-oriented savoring]

49 S.O.A.P. P urpose/meaning and Happiness

50 The Meaningful Life and Happiness Several studies with older Americans find that one of the best predictors of happiness is whether or not a person thinks his or her life has a purpose. If they had no such sense of purpose, seven out of ten people studied felt unsettled about their lives; if they had a sense of purpose seven out of ten felt satisfied. Lepper, H. (1996). In Pursuit of Happiness and Satisfaction in Later Life: A Study of Competing Theories of Subjective Well- Being. Ph.D. Dissertation, UC Riverside.

51 The Meaningful Life and Happiness College students who enjoyed their lives and studies were compared to those who didn’t. The main difference was that those students who were happier had an underlying sense of purpose in life. Rahman, T. and Khaleque, A. (1996). “The purpose in life and academic behavior problem students,” Social Indicators Research, 39:59.

52 Elements of the Meaningful Life Purpose Contribution Engaging work or activities Finding meaning in suffering Turning negative or hurtful events into happiness or satisfaction with positive connotations or meaning

53 Four Key Findings S.O.A.P. S ocial Connections O ptimism A ppreciation (Gratitude) P urpose (greater than oneself)

54 A Mnemonic: P.O.S.I.T.I.V.E. P urpose/Meaning O ptimism S ocial Connections I ncreased Gratitude/Appreciation T ake care of others I ncome above a certain level V ocational security E xercise

55 Egyptian Afterlife Entry Questions Have you found joy in your life? Has your life brought joy to others? Source: The Bucket List, starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson

56 Best Summary Books Martin Seligman, Authentic Happiness Chris Peterson, A Primer in Positive Psychology Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness Eric Weiner, The Geography of Bliss Dan Gilbert, Stumbling On Happiness

57 Resources Journal of Happiness Studies people.virginia.edu/~jdh6n /cappeu/index.aspx

58 Bill O’Hanlon’s info Websites:


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