Posts tagged Positive psychology

Research Summaries: Positive Psychology in Clinical Practice

Review articles are themselves supposed to be a summary of a field of inquiry, so it appeared queer summarizing a review article; but here I go. This post summarizes a 2005 review article appearing in Annual Review of Clinical Psychology. As it is more than a decade since the publication of this article by Martin Seligman, Angela Duckworth and Tracy Steen, I think it is appropriate to see how far the field has come since then and what still remains to be done.

  1. Positive psychology (PP), in this article, is seen through the triple lens of focusing on subjective well-being or pleasure; flow, engagement, and strengths; and meaning in life. This is as contrasted with the traditional deficit focus of clinical psychology whereby one looks at diathesis (genetic vulnerability for disorders) and stress (environment acute events like death of a loved one and chronic conditions like poverty) to figure out causes of diseases and suffering. While not denying the importance of ‘fix-what’s-wrong’ , positive psychology takes a ‘build-what’s-strong’ approach.
  2. Antecedents of positive psychology can be seen in most earlier movements within psychology. For e.g., if one were to focus on Psychoanalysis, Freud’s pleasure principle, Adler’s ‘healthy’ strivings motivated by social interest and Fromm’s productive orientation, all relate to some aspects of the new positive psychology paradigm. However, Humanistic psychologists, like Rollo May are more closely and directly related to the positive psychology movement, with conditions for self-actualization (Maslow) or fully functioning person (Carl Roegrs) laying the groundwork for PP.
  3. Its usually insinuated that humanistic psychology was not empirical or evidence based, however research showing that people grow most when they live an authentic life aligned with their values;  or the co-opting of Jahoda’s six processes that lead to mental health by Carol Ryff et al in their wells-substantiated measure of Psychological well-being suggests that humanistic psychology had enough teeth.
  4. PP tenet no. 1: positive states and emotions and factors are not merely the lack of or inverse of negative states or emotions or factors. Thus, mental health and mental illness are two separate though correlated entities. Reducing your anger will not make you automatically more loving and caring; getting out of depression will not necessarily make you flourishing and happy.
  5. The authors try to fit their new framework of the Pleasant life, the Engaged Life and the Meaningful life into the earlier conceptualization of PP as consisting of a focus on positive states, traits and institutions. Please note that this framework has been subsequently extended to include the Accomplished life and the Connected (relationships) life in the newest PERMA model.
  6. In therapy, its important to note the buffers and resources a person has and measures of well-being can indicate the actual or potential positive functioning. They can also elucidate differential predictors. For e.g. positive satisfaction with life predicts less acting out in youth when stressed.
  7. Self-report measures like Satisfaction with Life scale, need to be conjunct with informant reports, experience sampling methods (ESM) etc to get a more cohesive picture. VIA survey can be used for identifying character strengths that can be useful in therapeutic context by providing therapists an insight into what strengths can be used for planning and executing interventions.
  8. Flow or engagement states can be identified using ESM and semi-structured interviews etc. However measuring the degree of flow is challenging to this day, I believe. However identifying the activities that lead to flow experiences may aid in therapy by making the client move towards more of such experiences.
  9. To discern how meaningful or purposeful one finds life, one can use narrative techniques like asking the client to treat his or her life as a book and give chapter titles, main characters and future possible plots to that life-as-book. Existential traditions do focus on meaning as a way to diagnose and treat and their marriage with PP leading to PP2.0 is the newest thing in town.
  10. PP makes sense in therapy as positive emotions or events undo the effects of negative emotions or events. No mention is made of the (in)famous 3:1 ratio (3 positive for each negative event or interaction)  required for the same! Resilient people also typically experience more positive emotions, hence PP in clinical practice makes sense.
  11. Many therapists are already using PP stuff like instilling hope, courage, authenticity in clients and these are perhaps the non-specific factors that ensure that any therapy works better than placebo.
  12. Active PP interventions can also help in therapy.  Some of the interventions reviewed were the early Fordyce’s ‘Act like happy people’ intervention, the ‘3 good things’ or gratitude journal based interventions (which have proven to be one of the most effective interventions), writing about intense positive experiences (which nobody talks about nowadays) , the random acts of kindness interventions, Gratitude visits, At your best write-ups, bibliotherapy and using strengths in a new way everyday. Results show that while most interventions lead to short term gains in happiness, (even placebo do), for long term gains, interventions that can become habits like counting 3 good things daily or  deploying strengths in a new way daily, work better.

 

The promise of positive psychotherapy is still to be fulfilled, though progress is being made in that direction. If you are a therapist planning to include PP approaches in therapy or a mental health service user or caregiver, you probably should read a bit about this new filed. For others too, if the paper seemed exciting check it out here.

The different shades of Hope

Hope is one of the 24 character strengths as identified by VIA.  Its also known as optimism, future-mindedness and future orientation. It is defined by VIA as ‘expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about.’

There are three variants of this strength, as found in the psychological literature:

Is the glass half empty or half full? The pess...

Is the glass half empty or half full? The pessimist would pick half empty, while the optimist would choose half full. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(dispositional) Optimism is a general feeling that good things will happen to oneself. It’s a generalized expectancy about the future and is not tied to any specific task or goal in particular. It is a general feeling of confidence and is related to the outcome expectancy that energizes behavior while pursuing a challenge or solving a problem and results in persistence. Pessimists on the other hand are doubtful and hesitant in goal pursuit and this gets exacerbated in times of adversity. While optimists are confident of their ability to handle adversity one way or the other, pessimists tend to catastrophize.

Optimists are more likely to feel excitement and eagerness when confronted with adversity and have overall positive affect; while pessimists are more likely to feel negative emotions like guilt, despair, anger, anxiety and sadness when confronted with adversity.Optimists are confident in their ability to handle adversity and thus expend effort and energy in facing the adversity, while pessimists may indulge in wishful thinking – that getting distracted perhaps or closing their eyes – will make the adversity disappear and may stop expending effort.

Optimists are likely to use problem-focused coping (aimed at doing something about the stressor itself to blunt its impact) when in control; and use positive reframing, or accept the reality of situation, when not in control. Even in situations not under control, optimists use emotion focused coping (aimed at soothing distress) like seeing the silver lining in the cloud and learning from the bad situation. Pessimists are likely to use denial or distance themselves from the situation or use substance abuse as a means of escape.  Optimists engage with the situations while pessimist try to avoid the situations/ stressors.

Optimism has many psychological health benefits too; for eg. it helps you fight postpartum depression, and leads to lowered distress in wide ranging health conditions from lowering of pre and postoperative coronary surgery distress, to less suffering from cancer, or less distress in a caregiver caring for a person with cancer.Pessimism or hopelessness, on the other hand, rather than depression, is a stronger predictor of suicide.

Optimism is also related to behaviors that lead to more health promoting behaviors and that reduce health risks. Optimists also have better physical health and immunity and even longevity. Optimists are more likeable and thus have better social circles and networks as they use a positive problem focused approach to relationships too.

Optimism is moderately inheritable (25%), especially given its association with inheritable traits like neuroticism and extraversion, and is thus prtly in your genes. Also, it has been suggested that optimism develops as a result of early childhood experiences be it a secure attachment or development of ‘basic trust’ as per Erikson’s stages. However, optimism can be developed. Cognitive behavioral therapies intend to do so by changing the underlying thought patterns.

And that brings us to optimistic explanatory styles. While dispositional optimism is all about expectancies for the future, optimistic explanatory style grounds those expectancies into how we habitually interpret past success and failures.

One has an optimistic explanatory style when one makes stable, personal and global attributions for good events and learns to make temporary and specific attributions for negative past experiences. Pessimistic explanatory style on the other hand is when one makes stable and global, personal attributions for negative past events and experiences. Optimists have a flexible explanatory style, while that of pessimists is more rigid.

I will do a separate post on learned optimism and CBT which is related to this concept of optimistic and pessimistic explanatory styles. bI will focus more on dispositional optimism and Hope.

Hope as per the framework used by Snyder has three components: the goals that are clearly conceptualized, important to self and direct one’s future orientation;  agency or a belief in one’s ability to  take the first step and reach the goals despite inevitable obstacles, and pathways or the ability to come up with alternate paths and strategies to achieve the goal, if obstacles are encountered.

Hopeful people have learning goals and are mastery oriented, while those low in hope have performance goals and have a helpless orientation. Having hope means that one can think of many alternate paths to achieve the goal and is thus focussed on success and having learning goals. High hope also entails much enthusiasm and energy while pursuing goals and leads to positive affectivity; while being low in hope correlates with negative affectivity characterized by worry, negative thoughts and dissatisfaction with self.

There is another conceptualization of hope especially in medical settings. Hope, as per Herth, has three components: The cognitive–temporal dimension taps into “the perception that the desired outcome is realistically probable,” whereas the affective–behavioral dimension refers to “a feeling of confidence with the initiation of plans” to achieve the desired goals.  Affiliative–contextual dimension refers to the “recognition of the interconnectedness between self and others and between self and spirit”. As such, this dimension can also be thought of as an interpersonal connectedness and spiritual dimension. Essentially, it contains items related to perceived social support, perceived spiritual support, and a sense of meaning and belongingness. Thus the concept of hope can be elaborated to include a social/ spiritual dimension too.

Hope is measured using Adult hope Scale, Life Orientation test , Herth Hope scale etc. Hope/Optimism as measured by these scales has been found to correlate with important life outcomes.

Optimism and pessimism, or hope and hopelessness, are moderately correlated, but different constructs. Thus someone high in optimism may not necessarily be low in pessimism; more practically, the correlates of life outcomes due to high optimism may not be same as those for low pessimism. Optimism is more strongly related to extraversion and positive affect and pessimism is more strongly related to neuroticism and negative affect.

Hope is correlated with perceived competence, self-esteem and perceived purpose in life; low hope is also correlated with depression and anxiety. The low hope anxiety relationship is mediated by inability to learn from failure and the non realization of utility of efforts/ new strategies to achieve valued outocmes. High hope is also related to higher creativity and problem solving abilities thus leading to higher academic performance.

Hope is also social; high hope people are socially competent,enjoy getting to know others, getting to know their interests, and more frequently interact with others. Low-Hope people on the other hand ruminate, get frustrated and are aggressive in their goal pursuit and struggle interpersonally.

Hope builds resilience. The agency component of hope buffers against future depression / anxiety symptoms.

Hope and perseverance are closely related and many interventions increase both; hope is correlated to perseverance as well as bravery in individuals.

Some of the interventions that have found emperical validity and have resonted with me are :

  • Best possible self
  • One door closes, another door opens
  • Hope letter
  • WOOP exercise

Hope this was useful!

The books that shaped my 2016

‘Love of learning’ in VIA and ‘Learner’ in Gallup, is one of my top strengths, and it typically manifests as either participating in a lot of MOOC‘s or reading a lot of books. I’m trying to move more towards learning by doing, and moving more towards applied concerns, but I guess some reflection on the books I read in 2016 and which left a mark on me are in order.

I read a total of 16 books completely in 2016 as per goodreads, and I had set a challenge of reading at least 25 books in the year, so I did fall short of target.

Not all books I read made a lasting impact and here are the ones that did.

First off, I read Poke, from start to finish, on the very first day of the year and here is my review that I posted on goodreads.

Started the new year in a meta way by reading this book about starting and initiating, and found it such an interesting read that finished it in one setting. A really good book to hone up your ‘Activator’ strength. Motivated to start and ship ( and fail, and succeed) multiple projects this year.

And that set the tone for the year, where I did start multiple times, and fail and fail fast, and maybe ship once or twice too.

 

Next up was Leadership, again a short book finished in a short time with an equally short review:
Leadership: What Every Leader Needs to KnowLeadership: What Every Leader Needs to Know by John C. Maxwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

a good short read about why and how to increase your influence

View all my reviews

 

A book I had looked forward with great anticipation was Peak and I was not disappointed. I have already posted a detailed review of Peak on this blog.
While Peak was focused on how you can use the principles of deliberate practice for achieving excellence, the book Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia, was about the other set of outliers, those who experience abnormal thoughts and perceptions and how we can better appreciate the ‘psychotic’ condition.

Understanding Psychosis and SchizophreniaUnderstanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia by Anne Cooke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A radically different , and much needed approach to understanding the ‘psychotic’ experiences. This books brings a humane as well as a much more science informed (which doesn’t mean a medical model ) approach to the whole topic and is an essential reading for all involved !

View all my reviews

 

One book that made a deep impression on me and that I found very practical and useful was Life coaching.
Life Coaching: A Cognitive-Behavioural ApproachLife Coaching: A Cognitive-Behavioural Approach by Michael Neenan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

a superb book and must read for all coaches; its CBT approach complements the positive psychology focus that I am more steeped in. Draws from practical experience and with coaching sessions examples is easy to relate to! highly recomnended!!

View all my reviews

 

Another book that left a deep mark and was very informative, motivating and useful to the work I do with children was Helping Children Succeed.
Helping Children Succeed: What Works and WhyHelping Children Succeed: What Works and Why by Paul Tough
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An excellent book for all parents, teachers, educators and policy makers …freely available here: http://www.paultough.com/helping/web/ …the online version has many embedded resources like videos etc and makes for a unique reading experience.

The only gripe is that Paul Tough, equates grit/ resilience with non-cognitive skills and makes a case that they cannot be taught in the traditional sense of the word; however many other character strengths like gratitude , forgiveness, kindness can be inculcated by giving daily homework assignments etc.

View all my reviews

 

A book that was OK types, but very useful from a coaching perspective was Triggers.
Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts--Becoming the Person You Want to BeTriggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–Becoming the Person You Want to Be by Marshall Goldsmith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Marshall Goldsmith is more towards the Coaching for Compliance camp; while I lean towards Coaching with Compassion (as defined by Richard Boyatzis) ; still this is a pretty good read for anyone interested in adult behavioral change.

View all my reviews

 

I also managed to read Coping a book focused on applying positive psychology principles to how to cope in life. It is an edited collection of articles from leading psychologists and was very useful.
Coping: The Psychology Of What WorksCoping: The Psychology Of What Works by C.R. Snyder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was written when positive psychology had still not come of age; but this book on how to cope has a distinctly positive psychology spin to it. It has chapters on hope, optimism, mastery thinking and benefit finding – all dear to the positive psychology movement. Written by eminent authors in their fields, this easy to read collection of articles around the theme of coping is a good read for those related to the field of mental health/ counseling/ positive psychology.

View all my reviews

 

Another book that like Poke, gave me the confidence to be creative in my endeavors was Creative Confidence. I juts love this book.
Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us AllCreative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom Kelley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a gem of a book! For anyone who thinks of himself as a not-so-creative person, this book is a must-read (and must-do) to instill the much required confidence to be creative. For someone who already thinks that he has creative streaks, this book will fuel his/her creativity by providing rich tools and thinking grounded in the design thinking philosophy.
Read this book once, or twice, but more important —this is a book to do and try things, so try the suggested activities and tips a hundred times till you gain enough confidence. I wish this book was more widely read and I had chanced on it earlier!

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Another book that I partly re-read this year, because I hadn’t finished earlier was A First Rate Madness. This book and the Understanding Psychosis… book shows my fascination with the neurodiverse mind.
A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental IllnessA First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness by S. Nassir Ghaemi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting perspective that mental abnormality and illness may confer some really cool benefits when it comes to leadership. Books like this will hopefully reduce stigma associated with mental illness. A brave effort indeed by Ghaemi to retrospectively diagnose many leaders with mental health and illness and make his case. Not a typical psychology book, but more of psychobiography of prominent leaders. A good read nevertheless.

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Regular readers of The Mouse Trap will notice my leaning towards philosophical issues like existentialism for some time. One such book that made me reflect deeply about meaning was Meaning in Life.
Meaning in Life and Why It MattersMeaning in Life and Why It Matters by Susan R. Wolf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A very clear, accessible and important treatise on meaningfulness and its importance in life. Susan Wolf writes very clearly and makes some important contributions; which are followed by equally lucid commentaries by other philosophers and psychologists and then her response that tries to tie everything together.
Wish more philosophy books were as clear and engaging as this was. Gave me new ideas and those are subject for another day/ blog-post!

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To make progress towards my 2016 challenge I picked this book which is a comparatively short read, but I wasn’t decided and though I finished this in a couple of days, I just gained a lot of perspective from this book.
The Mind of an ApeThe Mind of an Ape by David Premack
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fascinating insight into the chimpanzee mind. I had read ‘original intelligence’ by David and Ann Premack quite a few years back and had admired the book a lot, so had great expectations from this book, and this book delivered, and how!
If you are fascinated by how experiments are done with animals (in this case chimpanzees) then this book is a must read. It will be especially helpful to those interested in comparative cognition and language abilities.

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The last book which I read in 2016 and which has made me ponder a lot is 80,000 hours- its supposed to resolve your mid life crises, but might have triggered one in me—-just kidding!!
80,000 Hours: Find a fulfilling career that does good80,000 Hours: Find a fulfilling career that does good by Benjamin Todd
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

a wonderful guide to choosing the right career, especially relevant to those who want to have a social impact or ‘make a difference’. The advice is research backed, grounded in psychology principles, and while being value laden to an extent, is also very pragmatic.
If only all self-help advice and non-profit functioning was as rigorous as the 80,000 hrs looks to be!

View all my reviews

 

What a way to end the year!! Which books did you read in this year and which made a lasting impression on you?

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?

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!

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