Happier @ Work


I maintain a separate blog at Flourish Mentoring, which is dedicated to positive psychology based leadership and educational engagement topics. There I recently posted a series of 10 blog posts that are designed as mini-lessons (between 600-800 word each), all focused on being happier @ work.

I’m cross posting the links from that course here. Hope you enjoy reading the ten mini-lessons and are able to apply it to your work life.

Collected below are links to all the ten mini-lessons:

  1. Why Happiness (at Work)
  2. Helpful tips to be happier @ work
  3. Creating a positive, gratitude filled culture
  4. Finding meaning in work
  5. Orientation towards work and job crafting
  6. Remaining motivated at work
  7. Optimistic and Positive attitude
  8. Setting powerful goals
  9. Discovering and deploying strengths at work
  10. Leading positively

Do let me know how you liked the posts and whether you would like to see more of such themed collection of posts in the future?

Emotions and Personality : take 7


Today I want to approach the question of emotions and personality from an existential lens. In my last post I alluded to the existential givens and you can read more about them here [pdf].

English: Emotions associated with sadness

English: Emotions associated with sadness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To recap, here are the contradictions or tensions that these existential givens give rise to:

This paper considers four existential challenges:
1) Life (and death). We are alive but we will die, and we live a world that both supports and negates life.
2) Meaning (and absurdity). We have a conscious capacity and desire for
meaning, but we live in a confusing and sometimes chaotic world that offers many meaning systems and also denies meaning.
3) Freedom (and determinism). We are free and determined, and we live in a world that allows and constricts our freedom.
4) Community (and aloneness). Human desire and capacity for authentic relatedness are countered by inauthenticity, alienation and loneliness.
For the personalty traits I will be referring to Cloninger’s temperament traits. For the emotions I will be referring to the eight Rasaas framework.
Consider Death (and life). The mere thought of death causes fear, while you need courage to live despite knowing that one day you will eventually die. Navigating this existential given, leads to the emergence of polar emotions of fear and courage. This also leads to existential as well as normal anxiety. This system has a neural basis as in the Avoid system, which may be associated with Serotonin system.  Also sensitivity to this given, results in the personality trait of Harm Avoidance. To recap:

Individuals high in HA tend to be cautious, careful,fearful, tense, apprehensive, nervous, timid, doubtful,discouraged, insecure, passive, negativistic, or pessimistic even in situations that do not normally worry other people. These individuals tend to be inhibited and shy in most social situations. Their energy level tends to be low and they feel chronically tired or easily fatigued. As a consequence they need more reassurance and encouragement than most people and are usually sensitive to criticism and punishment. The advantages of of high Harm Avoidance are the greater care and caution in anticipating possible danger, which leads to careful planning when danger is possible. The disadvantages occur when danger is unlikely but still anticipated, such pessimism or inhibition leads to unnecessary worry.


In contrast, individuals with low scores on this temperament dimension tend to be carefree, relaxed, daring, courageous, composed, and optimistic even in situations that worry most people. These individuals are described as outgoing, bold, and confident in most social situations. Their energy level tends to be high, and they impress others as dynamic, lively, and vigorous persons. The advantages of low Harm Avoidance are confidence in the face of danger and uncertainty,leading to optimistic and energetic efforts with little or no distress. The disadvantages are related to unresponsiveness to danger, which can lead to reckless optimism.

Consider on the other hand, Freedom (and determinism). The possibility of being free agents leads to wonder, surprise and novel behavior; while the possibility of being determined, at the other hand, fills us with disgust. This leads to polarity of Disgust-Surprise. Its my assertion that this state is associated with schizophrenic psychosis. This system has a neural basis in the Approach system, which may be associated with Dopamine system. Also sensitivity towards this given results in personality trait of Novelty Seeking. To recap:

Individuals high in Novelty Seeking tend to be quick-tempered, excitable, exploratory, curious, enthusiastic, ardent, easily bored, impulsive, and disorderly The advantages of high Novelty Seeking are enthusiastic and quick engagement with whatever is new and unfamiliar, which leads to exploration of potential rewards. The disadvantages are related to excessive anger and quick disengagement whenever their wishes are frustrated, which leads to inconsistencies in relationships and instability in efforts.


In contrast, individuals low in Novelty Seeking are described as slow tempered, indifferent, uninquisitive, unenthusiastic, umemotional, reflective, thrifty, reserved, tolerant of monotony, systematic, and orderly.

Now consider Loneliness (and community). While existential loneliness give rise to rage against the universe, the sense of community is made possible and engenders feelings of love. Thus the emotional polarities relevant here are Anger-Love. Its again my thesis that this is associated with bipolar sensitivity. This system has a neural basis in the Attach system, which may be associated with Norepinephrine system. The personality trait associated will be Reward Dependence. To recap:


Individuals who score high in Reward Dependence tend to be tender-hearted, loving and warm, sensitive, dedicated, dependent, and sociable. They seek social contact and are open to communication with other people. Typically, they find people they like everywhere they go. A major advantage of high Reward Dependence is the sensitivity to social cues, which facilitates warm social relations and understanding of others’ feelings. A major disadvantage of high Reward Dependence involves the ease with which other people can influence the dependent person’s views and feelings, possibly leading to loss of objectivity.


Individuals low on the Reward Dependence are often described as practical, tough minded, cold, and socially insensitive. They are content to be alone and rarely initiate open communication with others. They prefer to keep their distance and typically have difficulties in finding something in common with other people. An advantage of low Reward Dependence is that independence from sentimental considerations.

Lastly consider absurdity (and meaning). When confronted with the absurdity of life, the pointlessness of it all, our natural reaction is to become sad and depressed. On the other hand, if one is able to find or bestow meaning to one’s everyday acts, one lives with joy in his or her heart. This leads to polar emotions of Sadness and Joy and failure to navigate this existential given properly results in depression. The system associated with this may be called the Achieve system (all achievements being steps to endow life with essence). The personalty system associated here is Persistence. To recap:

Individuals high in Persistence tend to be industrious, hard-working, persistent, and stable despite frustration and fatigue. They typically intensify their effort in response to anticipated reward. They are ready to volunteer when there is something to be done, and are eager to start work on any assigned duty. Persistent persons tend to perceive frustration and fatigue as a personal challenge. They do not give up easily and, in fact, tend to work extra hard when criticized or confronted with mistakes in their work. Highly persistent persons tend to be ambitious overachievers who are willing to make major sacrifices to be a success. A highly persistent individual may tend to be a perfectionist and a workaholic who pushes him/herself far beyond what is necessary to get by.High Persistence is an adaptive behavioral strategy when rewards are intermittent but the contingencies remain stable. However, when the contingencies change rapidly, perseveration becomes maladaptive.


When reward contingencies are stable, individuals low in Persistence are viewed as indolent, inactive, unreliable, unstable and erratic on the basis of both self-reports and interviewer ratings. They rarely intensify their effort even in response to anticipated reward. These persons rarely volunteer for anything they do not have to do, and typically go slow in starting work, even if it is easy to do. They tend to give up easily when faced with frustration, criticism, obstacles, and fatigue. These persons are usually satisfied with their current accomplishments, rarely strive for bigger and better things, and are frequently described as underachievers who could probably accomplish for than they actually do, but do not push themselves harder than it is necessary to get by. Low scorers manifest a low level of perseverance and repetitive behaviors even in response to intermittent reward. Low Persistence is an adaptive strategy when reward contingencies change rapidly and may be maladaptive when rewards are infrequent but occur in the long run.

So my latest thinking based on different strands, ranging from existential strands to evolutionary considerations, seems to indicate that there are four basic emotional polarities and four basic temperaments.

These are summarized below:

  1. Harm Avoidance: Fear-Courage
  2. Novelty Seeking: Disgust-Surprise
  3. Reward Dependence: Anger-Love
  4. Persistence: Sadness-Joy

Of course, this leaves the question of what happens to the 3 (extended to 4 by me) character traits listed by Cloninger in his TCI. That and four new polar emotions family is the subject of a new post!!

ABCD and the Existential Givens


Long-time readers of this blog will be familiar with my ABCD model of psychology whereby I parse phenomena along 4 dimensions- Affective, Behavioral, Cognitive and Drive/Dynamic in nature.

I have also posted elsewhere about the four major goals of life. To recap, I believe that all humans are driven by these four major goals- Happiness, Success, Meaning and Integrity. If the parallels to ABCD are not obvious let me make it explicit.

The route to Happiness is via maximizing Positive Affect and minimizing negative Affect. Success is achieved by actively indulging in Behavior and by being engaged with the task at hand; Meaning is cognitively constructed and Integrity or morality at its core is about motivations or Drives.

All the above is more or less situated in the positive psychology paradigm, and the new Positive Psychology 2.0 looks beyond positivity to include existential concerns.

Now, I have been fascinated by the existential philosophy for quite some time, and have also explored its application to psychotherapy by Irwin Yalom etc. As per Yalom, we all must face up and try to resolve these four existential givens: Death, Isolation, Freedom/ responsibility; and Meaninglessness. All these are facts of life and we have to come to terms with them.

Death is inevitable; we can never truly get into the skin of the other, so existential loneliness also has to be dealt with; we are free to choose how to respond and that places a heavy burden of responsibility on us- we have to take ownership for our actions/ inaction;  finally given the cosmological perspective, our lives are perhaps meaningless- if anything we are burdened with providing an essence to our life(existence) , rather than otherwise.

Existential thinking is heavy stuff; but I guess all of us, start pondering such questions even when we are a small child; and continue revisiting them again and again, refining our tentative answers and resolutions to questions like these.

In the British school of existential therapy (cooper/Van Deurzen), these givens are seen as predictable tensions and paradoxes of the four dimensions of human existence, the physical, social, personal and spiritual realms (Umwelt, Mitwelt, Eigenwelt and Überwelt).

I find that fascinating. To me there appear to be two dimensions- one personal (Freedom/responsibility) vs interpersonal/ social (Isolation/ loneliness)  and the other Material/ physical (Death/ finitude/ embodiment) vs Spiritual/ psychological ( Meaninglessness/Un-Known). One has a focus on self , the other focus on others; the third a focus on the physical world, while the fourth is concerned with the spiritual realm.

And its easy to relate it to the ABCD/Four major goals of life:

The thoughts about Death (Physical) lead to embodied affective responses that can impact Happiness. Your behavior with others, whether you are able to connect authentically or not, determines your existential Isolation and loneliness (interpersonal) The interpersonal domain is also where you are able to taste your true Success/ Status. The drive towards personal Responsibility and freedom (personal) makes you moral and retain integrity. The recognition of oneself as a being striving for meaning, and impact in the real world, makes you paradoxically a spiritual person.

I like this marriage of Positive psychology and Existential Psychology and wish more and more people are driven towards the PP2.0 movement!

Measuring different types of Well-being

Well-being is a very broad construct. Any good measure of well-being is likely to be multi-dimensional and consist of many factors or scales. A recent review of well-being measures grouped the well-being measures into four broad groups of Hedonic, Eudiamonic, Quality of Life and Wellness measures.

However, a better conceptualization of well-being is to consider it made of emotional/hedonic well-being, psychological well-being, social well being and vocational/economic well-being.

Emotional well-being is typically measured by presence of positive emotions, absence of negative emotions and life satisfaction. While the first two aspects may be measured by PANAS , a popular measure of life satisfaction is Satisfaction with life scale.  I have proposed elsewhere that Life outlook also be measured as art of this emotional well-being.

A good measure of Psychological well-being is the one developed by Ryff. It measures psychological well-being on six axes or scales. As defined here, the scales measure the following:

Holds positive attitudes toward oneself and past life and concedes and accepts varied aspects of self (self-acceptance)
Shows insight into own potential, sense of development, and open to new and challenging experiences (personal growth)
Holds goals and beliefs that affirm sense of direction in life and feels that life has a purpose and meaning (purpose in life)
Exhibits capability to manage complex environment, and can choose or manage and mold environments to suit needs (environmental mastery)
Exhibits self-direction that is often guided by his or her own socially accepted and conventional internal standards and resists unsavory social pressures (autonomy)
Has warm, satisfying, trusting personal relationships and is capable of empathy and intimacy (positive relations with others)
As can be seen above, psychological well-being is very much tied to the basic human needs fulfillment. Whether they be needs for autonomy, mastery and relatedness as delineated in Self-determination theory;  or the need for purpose as popularized by Daniel Pink along with autonomy and mastery; or the Alderfer’s ERG theory emphasizing needs of Growth and Relatedness, all of these need satisfactions lead to psychological well-being. Nico at Mappalicious has a good write-up on the same with traits of low and high scorers on each dimension mentioned.
English: A diagram depicting the three element...

English: A diagram depicting the three elements of self-determination theory. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A good measure of social well being is one proposed by Keyes. This measures social well-being along five dimensions.
Has positive attitude toward others while acknowledging and accepting people’s differences and complexity ( social acceptance)
Believes that people, social groups, and society have potential and can evolve or grow positively ( social actualization)
Feels that one’s life is useful to society and the output of his or her own activities are valued by or valuable to others ( social contribution)
Interested in society or social life; feels society and culture are intelligible, somewhat logical, predictable, and meaningful (social coherence)
Has a sense of belonging to a community and derives comfort and support from community (social integration)
I still have to find a good measure of vocational/economic well-being.
While there are a plethora of well-being measures and equally diverse theoretical stances, it would serve all of us well if more comprehensive measures of well-being were used and also if all researchers used such a comprehensive measure to  report their findings. Well-being has important correlates and causation with respect to many valued life outcomes and many interventions to increase well-being are also gaining ground. Unless we measure well-being correctly, we may be getting onlya partial picture.

The BioPsychoSocioEnvironmental model

Most of us have heard about the BioPsychoSocial model of mental illnesses and have also heard about the stress-diathesis model. Today as I was contemplating the two, taking cue from my ABCD model of psychology, I tried combining the two and find quite some merit in that approach.

Schematic of diathesis–stress model.

Schematic of diathesis–stress model. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To recap, BioPsychoSocial model says that any disease is a result of multiple interacting factors- some of them biological in nature while others psychological and social. The mind affects the body and the body affects the mind and together they may lead to health or illness. This model is as opposed to the BioMedical model which considers the disease to be predominantly due to biological factors.

The stress-diathesis model posits that people have underlying biological or psychological vulnerabilities and when exposed to an environmental stressor may develop a mental disease with varying probabilities. The same stressor may be harmless to a person who does not have those many vulnerabilities, but prove detrimental for someone with the right kind of vulnerabilities.

Combining the two models together, one can have biological, psychological or social diathesis or vulnerabilities and when exposed to the right environmental toxin/stressor may lead to the emergence of a mental health issue in the individual.

To  elucidate by way of an example. Consider a person whose serotonin neurotransmitter system is such that he typically has lower levels of baseline serotonin. This would be a biological vulnerability to depression. He also has tendency towards negative automatic thoughts or pessimism.  This would be a psychological vulnerability. Moreover he has limited social support and is unmarried and from a low SES background. This would be the social vulnerability. Strike three. On top of this, lets say he suddenly loses hos job and is laid off. That environmental life event may be enough to drive this person to clinical depression.

The BioPsychSocioEnvironmental model has application not only in psychopathology, but I believe its a powerful framework for normal development too. For e.g., if we replace diathesis-stress model with differential susceptibility thesis  then the diathesis or sensitivity to context can interact with both positive and negative environmental events to lead to positive or negative life outcomes.

To me combining the two models is immensely fruitful; hope you too find it useful.

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