If you are interested in Positive Psychology and happen to live in (central) Europe, you might be interested to hear that Martin Seligman is coming to Germany in the summer of 2014 together with some other big names in the field, such as Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, and Barbara Fredrickson for several conferences. This is a great way to get updated on the latest developments in Positive Psychology. The presentation will be in English and translated into German. For more information, please refer to this (German) Flyer.
Month: January 2014
Do what you love, and do it often: The Holstee Manifesto
Today, I´d like to share with you the Hostee Manifesto, a clear proof for the fact that you do not have to be a positive psychologist to have a deep knowledge of positive psychology. It has been created by a group of young people, e.g., Fabian Pfortmüller, who happens to be co-founder of Sandbox, a truly exceptional group of young global change-makers that I had the pleasure to spend an incredible weekend with in Lisbon in 2012.
I´ll let the words speak for themselves.
On the Intersection of Cat Content and Positive Psychology…
Sometimes, the world seems to be divided into two different kinds of human species: by way of example, those who love cats – and those who love to hate them. I mean, I rarely meet people who say something like “You know…I mean…cats are…Ok”. Either we are totally infatuated with our feline friends – or we´ve come to believe they´re the devil´s brood – for whatever reason.
Now, I happen to be a cat lover. Therefore, I´d like to introduce you to Nelly (brown) and Samu (blotched), two British Shorthair kitten that live in our home since January 17. The reasons: first, I know that cat content is the most important type of internet content right after porn, so my secret hope is that you´re going to share this post like crazy. But I´d never admit that of course…
Second and more important, I´d like to convince you of the notion that there is a substantial correlation between Positive Psychology and having a cat (or several, for that matter). The argument goes as follows:
1) Cats do really cute things. I mean, they sleep about 90% of the day. And another 9% are reserved for eating. But in the 15 minutes that remain, they really do very cute things – like licking themselves, falling off the couch, or trying to fit in holes that are far too small.
2) Watching really cute things makes us happy. And being happy is one element of PERMA, Martin Seligman´s concept of flourishing. Quod erat demonstrandum.
But joking aside: there is some scientific research on why it could be healthy to have a pet (at least one that can be petted…):
First, there the Biophilia hypothesis. Basically, this means there is considerable empirical evidence that humans profit from getting in touch with nature, be it a green forest – or animals.
And second, we need to touch and to be touched (warmly). A caress (be it on the giving or receiving end) is as good as medicine (without the side effects). It can lower our blood pressure and reduce stress hormones like cortisol – among other things.
So, if you still believe that cats are evil creatures, please watch this video:
A huge Meow! to that.
The Meaning of Life is … Rock ‘n’ Roll
Once again, no time to write a “real” post today – but hey, there´s so much good stuff out there already. So I´d like to point you to a fabulous scene from a great movie: The Boat that rocked. It´s a movie by Richard Curtis (e.g., Four Weddings and a Funeral; Love…Actually) about a an illegal pirate radio station in the UK during the Sixties. Unfortunately, unlike most of Curtis´ other films, this one wasn´t a big success at the box office and therefore isn´t that well-known. If you like good music and funny plots with slightly exaggerated characters – go for it. It´s lovely. As with “Love…Actually”, some of the best and funniest scenes did not make it into the movie at all.
So here´s a 4:40 deleted scene on the meaning of life from “The Boat that rocked”. I promise you: whatever the mood you´re in right now – it´s going to be (even) better afterwards. Enjoy!
Rational Optimism: Check out Bill Gates Annual Letter
A couple of days ago, I wrote a post in which I argue that our world is in better shape than ever before – despite everything that´s undeniably wrong with it. And I posted some links to TED talks by people who are a lot smarter than I am to support my thesis with (their) data.
If you´d like to see more evidence on why it´s good to be a rational optimist, please have a look Bill Gates´ recently published annual letter…
Great Overview of Positive Psychology Courses
The MAPP program at Penn probably is the most advanced Positive Psychology program on this planet.* You get to learn directly from Martin Seligman and some of his closest collaborators. But then, it´s not the only program on earth – there´s lots of cool stuff out there. So, if you cannot manage to move to Philadelphia for 10 month (or travel back and forth – as in my case), you might want to check our this website that lists 10 of the most promising courses and programs out there…
* Hey … I mean … what else did you expect me to say…?
Crying at Metal Concert is a little embarrassing – but then, by the 3. time, it´s kind of O.K.
First, I´d like to make something clear: this is still a blog about Positive Psychology – even though I´m writing about Heavy Metal for the third time in eight days. But then, Heavy Metal and Positive Psychology are synonyms – at least in my wicked neural network.
Tonight, I´ve been to a concert of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a “metal vs. classical music crossover project” that was founded by members of the mighty Savatage. Even though TSO is most famous for their Christmas albums, they played a lot of old Savatage songs tonight – since the Christmas season is obviously over.
And I cried. Three times. Now I may be a little prone to tears anyway – but then again, there´s something to the sound of a distorted guitar that makes my heart vibrate at an inapprehensible, pre-verbal level. With a rare exception here and there, this can´t be done by any other kind of music. Why could that be the case?
Lord bring on the night, wrap it all around me
Let it hold me tight, soak up all that I bleed
Here´s a video of the full song from the same tour in a higher quality…
One of my favorite movies of all times is Pretty Woman*. There is this scene where the male main protagonist, successful businessman Edward Lewis (Richard Gere), invites the female mail protagonist, prostitute Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts), to the San Francisco Opera to see a premier of La Traviata. When Vivian is very moved by the music, Edward says:
People’s reactions to opera the first time they see it is very dramatic; they either love it or they hate it. If they love it, they will always love it. If they don’t, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become part of their soul.
Now, I totally agree with Eddie. It´s just that in my case, metal came first. And I am not sure if my soul can truly madly deeply “hold” more than one style of music.
So if you haven´t found out yet which music is cherished deeply by your soul – do it. Now! Music may be the Gods greatest gift to mankind. That´s why I always want to slap people across the face that answer the question “What do you listen to?” by something like “Oh…you know…whatever´s on the radio”.
That´s not how it´s supposed to be. Now I don´t care if you really really love Country, or Reggae, or Jazz, or…Celine Dion… ah…wait…the last one doesn´t count…well…whatever…as long as you really really love something.
´Cause when you´ve found it, you´re never going to be alone for a single moment for your entire life!
* Yes! It´s absolutely possible to love heavy metal and romantic comedies starring Richard Gere and/or Hugh Grant at the same time. I´m the living proof…
2051: Positive Psychology, Optimism, and the Florentine Moment in Time…
Tempus fugit. The first half of the MAPP program 2013/14 is over. Actually, the second and final semester is well on its way already. New subjects, new lecturers, lots of new homework…
I guess this is a good time engage in a little retrospection – and to have a look at the future as well.
I still remember sitting in the classroom at Penn on the first day, listening to Martin Seligman´s deep and sonorous voice, where he lectured on the history of positive psychology. At some point, one of my MAPP classmates asked him about his vision for positive psychology. What should be its contribution to mankind in the future?
Without much hesitation, Marty told us about his moonshot goal for positive psychology. “By 2051, I want 51% of the world´s population to be flourishing (according to the PERMA outline)”. Now in 2051, Marty will be 109 years old. So there´s good chance he´s talking about his legacy here. Could this be possible? After all, we still seem to be very far away from that number. War, poverty, and hunger are still raging in many parts of the world. But the truth is:
Things are getting better day by day, year by year.
Now I am a die-hard optimist. So if you feel I am not to be trusted, you may trust some experts (and their stats…).
- Over the last 40 years, people have managed to rise above hunger and poverty by the billions. And this trend is very likely to continue. If you would like to know more, please watch this fabulous TED talk by Hans Rosling.
- The likelihood of dying via homicide has decreased dramatically over the last century. Yes, there still are wars – and there still is murder. But the truth is: on a global scale, life on earth has never been safer. And once again, the trend is likely to continue. If you would like to take a deep dive, please watch Steven Pinker´s TED talk on the decline of violence.
- Overall, we have very good reasons to be (fundamentally) optimistic about the future of mankind. Again, if you´d like to know more, please watch this TED talk by Robert Wright on zero-sum-games, optimism, and human progress.
Positive Psychology wants to play its part in this overall development by teaching people the art and science of flourishing – how to lead a meaningful, positive, and accomplished life while being actively engaged in our closer and larger social networks.
Positive Psychology has first been embraced by coaches, psychotherapists, and physicians. It is now entering the workplace more and more. And the next important step will be:
How can we bring Positive Psychology into education, community management, and policy-making? How can we bring it to China and India – those countries that account for almost 40% of the global population?
Marty Seligman believes that we (at least the western/developed world) now are at a Florentine moment in time. During what came to be known as the Renaissance, the Italian city of Florence became very rich via trading, and therefore at the same time developed into a flourishing center for all kinds of arts and culture because of all that affluence. So where are we – today? In Marty´s words (taken from his book “Flourishing”):
The wealthy nations of the world – North-America, the European Union, Japan, and Australia – are at a Florentine moment: rich, at peace, enough food, health, and harmony. How will we invest our wealth? What will our renaissance be?
Time will tell. I´ve decided for myself that I want to be a part of that movement and upward trajectory. Not only does it feel better to be optimistic – it´s also rational. The alternative, being a (fundamental) pessimist, doesn’t make any sense to me (and I´ve got the data on my side…). What´s the use of being pessimistic? I am a young father – and I would love to have more children. How could I want to want this without believing there´s a good (or at least: better) future ahead, without believing this world fundamentally is a good place to live in?
Once again, time will tell. The picture beneath these lines was taken at a party at Marty Seligman´s house when he generously invited the 2013/14 MAPP students and faculty to have a Christmas celebration at his house on December 7, 2013.
The next day, final day of the first MAPP semester, it was also Marty´s part to speak the closing words. Quite obviously very moved, he cited a passage from Kim Stanley Robinson´s book The Years of Rice and Salt:
“We will go out into the world and plant gardens and orchards to the horizons, we will build roads through the mountains and across the deserts, and terrace the mountains and irrigate the deserts until there will be garden everywhere, and plenty for all, and there will be no more empires or kingdoms, no more caliphs, sultans, emirs, khans, or zamindars, no more kings or queens or princes, no more quadis or mullahs or ulema, no more slavery and no more usury, no more property and no more taxes, no more rich and no more poor, no killing or maiming or torture or execution, no more jailers and no more prisoners, no more generals, soldiers, armies or navies, no more patriarchy, no more caste, no more hunger, no more suffering than what life brings us for being born and having to die, and then we will see for the first time what kind of creatures we really are.”
Time will tell, Marty. But I´m with you…
Heavy Metal Mentor
Two days ago, I´ve been writing about “The Positive” in Heavy Metal. Today, I´d like to share with you a video (German…) that kind of fits with that posting. In my day job, I´m working for Bertelsmann, Europe´s leading media company. As such, we´re partner to Careerloft, a German-based high-potential career community for students. I´m serving as a mentor in that community. As such, I was portrayed in a 4-minute video that also embraces my love for Heavy Metal. Enjoy!
Heavy. Metal. Heart. Finding Happiness in Angry Music…
The second and final semester of the 2013/14 MAPP program is under way. The first onsite period is history already. While the first semester has (more or less) focused on the theoretical underpinnings of positive psychology, the second semester focuses on the practical application of that knowledge in different contexts. One of this semester´s course is reserved exclusively for the connection between positive psychology and the humanities. We will systematically explore how “the good life” can be found in art, poetry/novels, and music (among other things).
Therefore, last Friday, the whole course went to see a concert of the Philadelphia Orchestra, an evening that focused on Russian composers, especially Tchaikovsky´s 4th Symphony. While I enjoyed this evening tremendously, it is unlikely that I will go to another classical concert in the near future – because for more than 20 years now, my heart has been captured by a different kind of music: Heavy Metal!
It started out around age 12 with “soft” stuff like German superheroes The Scorpions, moving over to (the at that time inevitable) Guns n’ Roses, than progressively getting heavier with classics such as Iron Maiden or Savatage, and German Speed Metal à la Helloween, Gamma Ray, and Blind Guardian. Later I moved on to neo-classical sounds such as Stratovarius, guitar heroes like Yngwie Malmsteen, and Symphonic Metal as played by Rhapsody (of Fire).
During my adolescent years, I´ve also had a long-term affair with some Dark/Gothic Metal bands such as Amorphis and Tiamat – but I never really embraced those growling or screaming vocals. As a consequence, I stayed clear of really heavy Thrash and Black Metal. Around 23, I got rid of most of the typical clothing – but the love for the sound of heavily distorted guitars and a solid double bass drum remained – and probably will do so until the end of this life.
Now where´s the connection to (positive) psychology here? The thing is: there´s not too much official (psychological) research on heavy metal. And the few studies that do exist typically deal with (supposed) negative consequences of listening to heavy music, such as aggression, suicidal risk, and drug abuse. At the same time, there´s no doubt about the fact that most people use music to control (dampen or amplify) and even create certain moods and emotions.
Heavy Metal concerts are distinctly peaceful and non-violent places – if you manage to avoid the mosh pit, that is…
I´m really trying not to be lopsided here – but to me there always seemed to be something wrong about these studies. Heavy Metal is – for the most part – aggressive music, agreed. But this does not automatically imply Heavy Metal fans are aggressive people. I´ve been to hundreds of concerts in my lifetime. From these experiences, I can say that Heavy Metal concerts are distinctly peaceful and non-violent places – if you manage to avoid those inevitable mosh pits, that is. 🙂
Most of us are truly amicable and fun-loving guys (and girls of course). It just so happens that some of us are also a little burly – and not to fond of shaving or going the hairdresser.
I did not choose it. It chose me. Listening to the arpeggios in the first solo of Yngwie Malmsteen´s Mad Dog elicits feelings in me that otherwise can only be aroused by sex and really really good dark chocolate.
Quite obviously, different people have different “internal energy levels” and therefore react to “different vibrations” when exposed to music (please excuse the esoteric language…). What I mean is: my favorite TV series of all times is Ally McBeal. I love shopping and romantic comedies starring Hugh Grant. And I happen to LOVE Heavy Metal. I did not choose it. It chose me. Listening to the arpeggios in the first solo of Yngwie Malmsteen´s Mad Dog (starts approx. at 1:42) elicits feelings in me that otherwise can only be aroused by having sex or eating really really good dark chocolate.
My esoteric hunch is echoed in one of those rarer studies that finds headbangers are just regular people that happen to feel good while listening to high-intensity music. It´s not a coincidence that a lot of metalheads are also very fond of Wagner. The study concludes by stating that the
“most widely accepted conclusion is that heavy metal fans are in general angrier, more agitated, and more aroused than fans of other musical styles. The results of this study do not support this speculation. No pretest differences were found among subjects’ levels of state arousal, state anger, or trait anger.”
In addition, the researchers find what is called an interaction affect. To cut a long story short: there actually are people who become angry when listening to Heavy Metal. Precisely, people who do not like Heavy Metal. Surpriiiise! Happens to me when I have to listen to Miley Cyrus. I mean, I love to watch Miley Cyrus – but only when the TV is muted. Wrecking Ball is a great piece of visual art when accompanied by Manowar´s Heavy Metal Daze.
I was inspired to write this post (and stole the second part of the title…) by a piece on The Atlantic magazine. The author elaborates on the potential uplifting effect of getting in touch with our innate animal-aggressive nature when listening to Heavy Metal: “There’s something cleansing about engaging with emotions we might not usually let ourselves feel.”
Closing remarks: While doing some research for this article, I was quite amused to find out that the Mano Cornuta (Sign of the Horns; as displayed in both pictures) is also an ancient Buddhist mudra by the name of Karana – which is used to fight off evil spirits. There you have it! We´re the good ones, really…