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Accentuate the positve

OK, OK, happy talk, ick! but still, there are studies! Scientific American:

Positive experiences happen to us everyday yet we don't always take full advantage of them. Have you ever noticed that it could be a great day (you had 8 hours of sleep, it’s the weekend, had a great conversation with a friend etc…) but that it takes just one harsh word from someone or one piece of bad news to ruin the day. Research by Shelley Gable and Jonathan Haidt suggests that we actually have three times more positive experiences than negative. What keeps us from fully capitalizing on all the good in our lives, making us a slave to the bad? Researchers have identified two main tendencies that keep us from experiencing, extending, and expanding our joy: the negativity bias and habituation. The negativity bias refers to our mind's innate tendency to give more weight to the negative; Roy Baumeister has shown that we tend to remember and focus more on negative experiences. Habituation, discussed in research on the hedonic treadmill, refers to the fact that while we receive boosts of happiness from new positive experiences, over time, we get used to these experiences and they no longer have the same effect.

How can we counter this tendency to assign greater weight to the negative experiences in our life? A recent study by Nathaniel Lambert and colleagues at Brigham Young University gives us a clue. Their research shows that discussing positive experiences leads to heightened well-being, increased overall life satisfaction and even more energy. ....

A number of studies have shown that making daily lists of the things you feel grateful for – which helps draw our attention to the positive experiences in our lives – improves our psychological and physical health and well-being. For example, gratitude improves our ability to connect with others, boosts our altruistic tendencies, make us optimistic and happier, decreases envy and materialism and even improves health for people with physical ailments (neuromuscular disorder, in one study). Lambert's new study, however, extends research on gratitude to show that verbally expressing the gratitude we feel to people close to us helps increase and sustain our well-being above and beyond simply feeling or writing down gratitude. Great literary figures have long known that happiness grows in sharing. In one of her letters, Charlotte Brontë observes “Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste.” In The Common Reader, Virginia Woolf writes "Pleasure has no relish unless we share it.” Lambert’s research provides empirical validation of their wisdom. 

"Happiness grows in sharing." I like that, and of course our political economy totally reinforces it! Oh, wait...

NOTE Nevertheless, I do like the idea, not in a "happy talk" or "grin and bear it" sense, but pragmatically. Perhaps I'll practice creating lists. This is, after all, a blog: A humongous list!

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NWLuna's picture
Submitted by NWLuna on

to counterbalance all the talk about fiscal "cliffs," CPI, cuts to SS, Medicare "reform," etc.

Submitted by lambert on

That I've got a house, a garden, a fantastically interesting community, and the ability to do what I want to do (blog) is amazing. We tend to forget things like that. When I was a child, my father used to ask me before bed "What was your favorite thing about today"? He had depressive tendencies of course (see MM here) and now that I am older than he was then, I can see that his question was for himself, as well as for me, but it's an awfully good question anyhow.

Perhaps I should do a series.

First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. -- Mahatma Gandhi