“I am the Father of Positive Psychology, not Learned Helplessness”, Martin Seligman says

Martin Seligman & Nico RoseIs a scientist (morally) responsible for his scientific discoveries? In a way yes, I would guess. If you help to develop the atomic bomb (knowing what kind of destruction it´ll cause…) and put it in the hand of the military, you´re at least partly responsible in case it is actually used. But what if somebody else (unknowingly…) takes your scientific discovery – and uses it in a way that is fundamentally the opposite of what you intended it to be?

Because this is what happened to the co-founder of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman. Over the last couple of weeks, Marty was mentioned in several articles covering the “CIA torture report”, e.g., here in the New York Magazine. Supposedly, two psychologists that helped the CIA to develop “more efficient” torture methods said they were “inspired” to do so by research on the subject of learned helplessness, a framework that was first described by Marty in the late 1960s (this was his breakthrough as an internationally acclaimed researcher; here´s one of the first articles on the subject from 1967), and that was subsequently used to develop effective treatment methods for depression.

Some articles even (falsely!) claimed that Marty was directly involved in the development of torture methods. For instance, this so happened in the “Spiegel” (“Mirror”), Germany´s leading weekly magazine on politics and culture. Luckily, I was able to help Marty to some extent with my knowledge of the German media system. At the end of the day, an intervention led to a significant reformulation of central aspects of the article. The newspaper even apologized to him for having made those false claims.

If you are interested in the development of the concept of learned helplessness and its (alleged) role in torture methods (and Marty´s thoughts and feelings on this unfortunate issue): there´s a superb article on this topic by Maria Konnikova in the New Yorker.

There´s a Lack of Positive Words in the German Language

A couple of times in the past, I´ve written about how immersing yourself in Positive Psychology is somewhat hard when you´re German – because it seems to be a slightly “Un-German” topic. Today, I´d like to explore this topic from a slightly different angle – that of language. Oscar Wilde supposedly said “Life is too short to learn German.” And he may have been right. It´s pretty complicated and therefore awfully hard to learn as a foreign tongue. Yet, it is the language of Goethe, Schiller, and Rammstein – that´s something to explore.

Speaking of the metal band Rammstein: there´s this thing about German pronunciation that makes just about everything sound like a declaration of war – even if you say something like “I love you”. There´s a funny video about this on Youtube. The guys overdo it a little, but then, this may just be what it feels like to a non-German ear:

But I digress. What I really want to talk about: I feel there´s a lack of positive words in the German language. Positive Psychology was (sort of…) invented in the U.S. – and most research papers and books are written in English. When I came to Penn, obviously I had to study the subject in English, too. But now that I´m back in Germany, I try to “sell” the topic over here, which has to be done in German of course. And that´s where the problems begin.

There´s this myth that the Inuit have an unusually high number of words to describe snow. We have “50 Shades of Grey”, they supposedly have 50 shades of snow. Actually, this is not true. But the idea behind the myth seems highly intriguing to me. In short it says: when something is valued very highly in a specific culture this tends to influence the use of language. Specifically, people pay more attention to the subject because of its importance, thereby learning to make more subtle distinctions, that ultimately are reflected in the amount of different words that can be used to talk about the subject.

To a certain degree, this idea mirrors one of Wittgenstein´s most famous dictums:

The limits of my language means the limits of my world.

When I do not have a word for something, that makes it hard to think about that subject, because it cannot be “grasped”. And it makes it even harder to speak about “that something” to other people. That idea is (probably) embodied in another Wittgenstein quote: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

Which brings us back to my problem of “selling” Positive Psychology in German:

Where there are no words, you can´t “spread the word”.

When I first tried to talk and write about Positive Psychology in German, oftentimes I felt a lack of the “right” words. For example, the German language has the same word (ergo: a lack of distinction…) for the subjects of “Happiness” and “Luck”. Both are signified by the noun “Glück”. So whenever I talk about happiness and positive emotions in the context Positive Psychology, I have to use an awful lot of extra words to get across the intended meaning.

But it´s not only a lack of distinction. Sometimes, I even feel there are no words. For instance, the brilliant Jonathan Haidt gave a lecture on the subject of “awe” in one of our MAPP classes. This moved me very much and I wanted to talk about my experience with friends back in Germany. The problem is: obviously, there is no adequate translation for “awe”. If you type “awe” into a translation machine, you’ll get the German equivalents of “veneration” or “reverence”, “rapture” or “entrancement”. All the suggestions entail a very religious or, at least, old-fashioned connotation. They are not part of a modern, non-religious German “language game”. Therefore, talking about “awe” in German in a scientific (or just everyday) context seems awfully hard.

This bears some interesting implications. Whenever I fill in a questionnaire on happiness or life satisfaction (e.g., here on Marty Seligman´s website), there´s an interesting phenomenon when I look at the results. These will be displayed in the context of different normed groups. E.g., your scores will be compared to other people of your age, your educational background, but also your ZIP code (when provided). Now here´s the thing: Comparing my results to other people from my ZIP code (ergo: other Germans) will always put me in a higher percentile. This means: based on the same raw scores, the algorithm will display that I´m quite happy when comparing myself to other men in general, or other Ph.Ds, but that I´m extremely(!) happy when comparing myself to other Germans.

Now, there´s a couple of different explanations for this phenomenon. The easiest one would be: on average, the German respondents in that data base are not all that happy – and that´s why I score (relatively) higher vis-à-vis that group. But it may also be a phenomenon of language. What if Germans were just as happy on average as, let´s say, U.S. citizens, but were reluctant to use positive self-descriptions in an extreme specification – just because it´s not part of our “happiness language game”? Maybe, via studying Positive Psychology in English in the U.S., I became a little less German, thereby being able to mitigate the dissonance of describing my life in a very positive light?

I guess Positive Psychology has to integrate cultural perspectives more and more in order to be equally “useful” for all the people on this planet. Recently, the Scientific American published a piece by the name of “Not Everyone Wants to Be Happy” citing different studies that were able to show that the concept and meaning of happiness can vary significantly between different cultures (notably, between more Western and more Eastern cultures) – but has also evolved over time. Very though-provoking.

Which brings me to the final question for today:

Could Germany be a better place if somebody invented new positive words?

“The German” per se (as a stereotype”) is depicted as a sober-minded person. We´re perceived as being diligent, orderly, industrious, and a lot of other helpful attributes. But we´re also depicted as being rather anxious, risk-averse, and just not that open-minded (think “German Angst”). This is not just an academic discussion. The German economy has been doing comparably well over the last couple of years – but how long will this last? We´re really not that good at building and financially supporting start-ups. Forbes regularly updates a large list of all those startups that are valued at more than one billion $ in terms of private equity funding. Only one of those is based in Germany.

What if all this were (at least to some extent) a consequence of a lack of the right positive words? Would we become more optimistic, less risk-averse, and more open-minded if we were able to enhance our language, if we were able to broaden the (far) positive side of our verbal aptitude? I think it´d be worth a try. In 1999, a German publisher of dictionaries (together with ice-tea brand Lipton) hosted a contest for the invention of a new word. We have a German word for the state of being “full” (= not hungry any more) – but there´s no positively framed expression for being “not thirsty any more”. As far as I know, the winning word has not made it into our regular language use, but I guess it was worth the effort.

So why shouldn’t we – for starters – find a more awesome translation for “awe”? I´m eager to hear your suggestions…

MOOC on Positive Psychology created by Barbara Fredrickson

Barbara FredricksonIf you want to learn the basics of Positive Psychology directly from one of the most eminent researchers in the field, 2015 is your time. Barbara Fredrickson is offering a massive open online course (MOOC) via the platform Coursera for free. The course is scheduled from February 9 to March 27. You´ll have to put in roughly 2-4 hours of work. This is the course´s syllabus:

Week 1: Positive Emotions: The Tiny Engines of Positive Psychology. Look “under the hood” to discover the powerful drivers of growth, well-being, and health.

Week 2: The Mindscapes and Outcomes of Positivity. Discover the roots of flexibility, creativity, and resilience.

Week 3: The Delicate Art of Pursuing Happiness. Discover the ratios and priorities that best promote flourishing and learn common pitfalls to avoid.

Week 4: Positivity Resonance and Loving-Kindness. Unveil the force of co-experienced positive emotions and practice this lab-tested meditation honed over millennia.

Week 5: The Fruits of Positivity Resonance. Learn to spot the health benefits that loving-kindness uniquely nourishes.

Week 6: The Ripples of Positivity Resonance. Far beyond you and your happiness, positive psychology radiates out to benefit your relationships and community.

For further information and registration, please visit the corresponding page at Coursera.

Coursera_logo

 

Footage from Aalto Systems Forum 2014 feat. Peter Senge and Esa Saarinen

On November 20, 2014, the University of Aalto, Finland hosted a conference by the name of “Being Better in the World of Systems” in order to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Systems Analysis Laboratory. The keynote speaker was internationally acclaimed management “guru” Peter Senge (author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization). His one-hour-long lecture is now available online:

Additionally, you can watch a lecturer by Esa Saarinen by the name of “Systems Intelligence as Life Philosophy”.

All the other lectures of that day are available on Youtube as well. Additionally, I advise downloading and reading the book Being better better – with Systems Intelligence.

 

Top 10 Articles for 2014 on Mappalicious – Positive Psychology

Top 10I´ve written 157 posts on Mappalicious in 2014. My learning: Content curation (when it´s well done…) really draws large audiences. Posts No. 1, 2, 4, 6, and, to a lesser degree, 10 are lists of Positive Psychology articles, books, and videos.

Then, video content obviously works: No. 7 & 9 are beautiful video clips on Positive Psychology topics.

Additionally, there´s a lot of “Finn-Power” in this list. No. 5 is my first Mappsterview featuring the “Queen of Sisu”, Emilia Lahti, who´s recently given her first TEDx talk (must-watch). No. 8 is a fun article based on the marvelous work of Finnish super-hero philosopher Esa Saarinen.

Last not least, I´m happy to see that a very personal, slightly off-topic, post has made No. 3.

  1. Positive Psychology Articles
  2. Positive Psychology Constructs
  3. SCHLAAAAAND! How the Soccer World-Cup helps to Build a Likeable Version of the “German Nation”
  4. Positive Psychology at Work: A Book List for the Layman
  5. Mappsterview No. 1: Emilia Lahti, the Queen of Sisu
  6. My Top 20 TED(x) Talks on Happiness, Well-Being, Meaning & Co.
  7. Positive Psychology in a Nutshell: Watch this beautiful 5-minute Instructional Video
  8. The James Bond Philosophy of Life – in 007 Chapters
  9. A little Kindness goes a long Way: heart-warming Short Film about the Power of being a Giver
  10. My Mind´s MAP(P): The 4-minute Ivy League Diploma in Positive Psychology

 

Thanks a lot to all friends, frequent as well as less frequent visitors, and all those who “stumbled upon” Mappalicious by chance. See you in 2015!

 

Source for Top 10 graphic

Coaching for (aspiring) Self-Employed People – the Hero´s Journey

A couple of weeks ago, I was interviewed for a magazine that is issued four times per year by our municipal agency for economic development. The interview is centered on coaching for (aspiring) self-employed persons and freelancers. It was an inspiring conversation that dealt with an array of topics such as self-awareness and strengths, finding a good tax consultant, but also Joseph Campbell´s theory of the monomyth (the hero´s journey). You can download the article here (pages 2/3 in the document; only in German, unfortunately).

Additionally, there was a photo shooting for the article. I liked the photos very much – so I bought some of them to use them on websites, social media etc. Which one do you like best?

 

Dr. Nico Rose
Dr. Nico Rose
Dr. Nico Rose
Dr. Nico Rose
Dr. Nico Rose
Dr. Nico Rose

Dear Friends, this is NOT Germany!

This is a little off-topic – but I feel a strong urge to post something like this right now. About 80% of Mappalicious´ visitors are not from Germany; I get lots of traffic from North-America, the UK, Australia, but also other European countries such as Finland or the Netherlands.

Now, I don´t know how often you follow foreign politics, but if you have a look at what´s going on in Germany right now, you may find articles like this one from the Guardian:

Article_Guardian

What this is all about: there´s an organization that call themselves PEGIDA, an acronym that roughly translates to “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident”. Right now, this group is able to mobilize some 15.000 people to demonstrate in Dresden (former East-Germany) every Monday against immigrants, against the “mainstream media” (which they call liars and things a lot worse), and other issues which are too many and too obscure to mention.

Their main argument is that Europe, and especially Germany, will be overrun by Muslims in the near future (what they call “foreign infiltration”). That is especially absurd as the percentage of Muslim inhabitants of Dresden currently is at roughly 0.4-0.5% – which is about one tenth compared to the 5% of the general population in Germany. And by the way, that number is going to rise to ca. 7% by 2050. Whoa, now this is what I call infiltration…

The founders of PEGIDA are a bunch of convicted criminals and/or covert or blatant Neo-Nazis, and most of the people walking beside them are die-hard bozos and hillbillies, and what in the U.S. would probably be called rednecks, and people who´s eyebrows meet firmly in the middle. And then, beside those, there are some pensioners and unemployed people who feel “left behind” – people who are in dire need of a scapegoat for the (alleged) misery in their lives.

These people make me (and probably around 98% of the German population) want to puke my guts out. 25 years ago, at that same place, the people of the former German Democratic Republic were protesting against the reigning Communist regime, they risked their freedom and their lives to get rid of Erich Honnecker and his band of crooks. Their rallying cry back then was “Wir sind das Volk!” (We are the people!”). It was a cry for equality, humans rights, and freedom!

Now, those PEGIDA shitheads are misusing that very same slogan, in a sort of deformation, when they roister through the streets of beautiful Dresden to rant and rave against everything that is somehow foreign, alien, and exceeds the capacity of their shriveled brains.

PEGIDA, you´re not “the people”. You are a pitiful, gruesome shadow of the past.

Dear friends all over the world – please remember: This is not Germany, and these guys are not “the Germans”. I´ve just had a look at my wedding photo from 3,5 years ago. Our maid of honor is originally from Italy, and the bridesmaid is from Syria. My very first girl-friend was from Vietnam, and among my best German buddies are people from Poland, Tunisia, and India. They´ve been working, and living and loving here, for ages! That, my friends, is Germany!

And “dear” PEGIDA! You are not “the people”. You are a sordid, gruesome shadow of the past. There is no future for you – for it will be bright and colorful. Two days to go until you celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. May you remember that his message was one of kindness and compassion, not ostracism.

Merry Christmas!

 

Not what you see (Savatage)

No life’s so short it can’t turn around
You can’t spend your life living underground
For from above you don’t hear a sound
And I’m out here, waiting
I don’t understand what you want me to be
It’s the dark you’re hating, it’s not who I am
But I know that it’s all that you see

No life’s so short that it never learns
No flame so small that it never burns
No page so sure that it never turns
And I’m out here, waiting
I don’t understand what you want me to be
It’s the dark you’re hating, it’s not who I am
But I know that it’s all that you see

Can you live your life in a day, putting every moment in play?
Never hear a word that they say as the wheels go around
Tell me if you win would it show – in a thousand years, who would know?
As a million lives come and go on this same piece of ground

(simultaneously)

Can you live your life in a day I’ve been waiting
Putting every moment in play?
Never hear a word that they say I don’t understand what you want me to be
As the wheels go around
Tell me if you win would it show It’s the dark you’re hating
In a thousand years, who would know?
As a million lives come and go It’s not who I am, but it is what you see
On this same piece of ground

I’ve been waiting
I don’t understand what you want me to be
It’s the dark you’re hating
It’s not who I am, but it is what you see

Can you live your life in a day
Putting every moment in play?
Never hear a word that they say
As the wheels go around
Tell me if you win would it show
In a thousand years, who would know?
As a million lives come and go
On this same piece of ground

Tell me would you really want to
See me leave this night without you
Would you ever look about you
Wondering where we might be
New York is so far away now
Tokyo, Berlin and Moscow
Only dreams from here but somehow
One day that world we will see

I don’t understand
I don’t understand
I don’t understand
I don’t understand
I don’t understand
I don’t understand
I don’t understand
I don’t understand…
…what I see.

I swear on tomorrow, if you take this chance
Our lives are this moment, the music – the dance
And here in this labyrinth of lost mysteries
I close my eyes on this night and you’re all that I see
You’re all that I see