Somaesthetics: On the Role of Physical Exercise and “neck-down” Interventions in Positive Psychology

The MAPP program is a fulltime program – but combines onsite classes with long-distance learning periods. Part of the distance learning comprises a lot of reading (Who would have thought of that…) and writing essays about a wide array of positive psychology topics. I´ve decided to post some of those essays here on Mappalicious. Surely, they´re not the be-all and end-all of academic writing. But then again, it would also be a pity to bury them in the depths of my laptop…

Jump Jump

Sir Winston Churchill, British prime minister during World War II, is often cited with the quote “First of all: No sports.”* At the same time, it is well-known that he experienced recurring bouts of severe depression all through his life. Churchill is publicly perceived as one of the greatest political leaders of the 20th century – but he may have erred severely pertaining to the issue of physical activity. I will argue that building people´s self-efficacy and perception of agency should be a goal of all positive interventions, and that “neck-down” interventions, such as regular physical activity, are an easily accessible instrument to build up these resources.

In his review article that covers 30 years of research on goal-setting, Locke (1996) points out the importance of conscious goal-setting for motivational processes. To support this notion, he elaborates on different conditions and processes that foster the relationship between goals, motivation, and performance. For instance, he states that goal difficulty, goal clarity, and commitment to one´s goals are enablers of high performance across a wide array of tasks. In addition, he explicates how frequent goal-directed feedback and beliefs about the attainability of one´s objectives are beneficial to high levels of achievement. Ideally, these beliefs can initiate an upward spiral: Self-efficacy is conducive to attaining goals, which in turn builds up more self-efficacy, which in turn helps to attain more difficult goals in the future. Furthermore, Locke argues that the process of effective goal-setting can be taught and learned – which is important because reaching goals, especially difficult ones, is beneficial to build and sustain personal satisfaction with life.

Somewhat similar to Locke´s findings, hope theory (Lopez, Snyder, Magyar-Moe, Edwards, Pedrotti, Janowski, et al., 2004) stresses the human capacity for setting goals, envisioning approaches that enable us to reach those goals, and thus for summoning the necessary motivation to follow through. Hope is delineated as the expectancy that a change for the better is possible, thereby being a meta-resource for all kinds of change processes. Without hope, they would probably be no impulse to act at all. People can be hopeful about goals in general, broad aspects of life, and also very specific goals. The authors posit – again somewhat similar to goal-setting theory – that hope can initiate an upward spiral: Initial hope increases the probability for early progress which than acts as a resource for building further hope.

As expressed in the first paragraph, there is considerable support for the idea that physical activity such as regular jogging or working out at a gym can be a way to build up self-efficacy and optimism. Most interestingly, this increase in self-efficacy may not be confined to that specific domain of activity. There is some evidence that there may be a (positive) spillover effect to other areas of life. In this spirit, Richard Shusterman (2006) makes the case for a new research agenda called Somaesthetics. He claims that the branch of sciences labeled as “the Humanities” has neglected the role of the body over the last 2,500 years. Arguing that the body is the “tool” for each and every human performance, Shusterman posits that coming to a better understanding of the interplay between the body and human cognition and emotion could improve our understanding of (positive) developmental processes in general. In his flow of arguments, Shusterman suggests the body is a major source of agency and autonomy since physical movement is the perfect embodiment of exerting free will. Later in his article, he also elaborates on how performers of any every kind can profit from an enhanced bodily awareness since it will help them to practice (and subsequently, perform) more stress-free and therefore, longer. Yet, in his opinion, a fully functioning body is not just a means to an end, but can be an end in itself – since feeling healthy and fully-functional brings about a pleasure of its own kind.

Much in the same vein, Mutrie and Faulkner (2004) state that the body plays an essential role in human cognition and emotion. They summarize their article by stating there is convincing evidence that supports the link between physical activity and well-being, first by preventing mental health problems, second by functioning as a direct treatment of mental disorders, and third by improving the quality of life of people with mental health problems as well as the non-clinical population. Similar to Shusterman (2006), Mutrie and Faulkner believe this to be a result of the specific way physical activity is capable of strengthening self-efficacy and perceived autonomy, the feeling of being in control, and optimism. They conclude by saying that, in their opinion, regular physical exercise embodies the principles of positive psychology to a great extent and should therefore complement the extant canon of positive interventions.

To summarize: Building up self-efficacy, a feeling of agency, and optimism, is an underlying principle of positive interventions. “Neck-down” interventions can be instrumental in building up these general resources. To a varying extent, physical activity is accessible to (almost) every person on this planet, can be initiated at will, and comes at virtually no cost (in the case of jogging etc.). Yet, it is not only a means to end – but rather a pathway to well-being itself.

References

  • Locke, E. A. (1996). Motivation through conscious goal-setting. Applied and Preventive Psychology, 5(2), 117-124.
  • Lopez, S. J., Snyder, C. R., Magyar-Moe, J. L., Edwards, L., Pedrotti, J. T. Janowski, K., et al. (2004). Strategies for accentuating hope. In P. A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.), Positive Psychology in Practice (pp. 388-404). Hoboken: Wiley.
  • Mutrie, N., & Faulkner, G. (2004). Physical activity: Positive psychology in motion. In P. A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.), Positive Psychology in Practice (pp. 146-164). Hoboken: Wiley.
  • Shusterman, R. (2006).Thinking through the body, educating for the humanities: A plea for somaesthetics. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 40(1), 1-21.
*However, there is considerable evidence that this may be a misquotation.

Hell is other People? On being Happy with & without Others

The MAPP program is a fulltime program – but combines onsite classes with long-distance learning periods. Part of the distance learning comprises a lot of reading (Who would have thought of that…) and writing essays about a wide array of positive psychology topics. I´ve decided to post some of those essays here on Mappalicious. Surely, they´re not the be-all and end-all of academic writing. But then again, it would also be a pity to bury them in the depths of my laptop…

Affection

There is an abundance of proverbs that are suggestive of the positive upshots of close relationships. By way of example, we say “no man is an island” and therefore “a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved”. Or vice versa: “A joy shared is a joy doubled.”

Positive psychology and adjacent disciplines underscore this importance of close relationships, be it friendship, love, or the support of a larger social entity (Reis & Gable, 2003). When asked to give a short definition of positive psychology, the late Christopher Peterson used to say: “Other people matter.” (2006, p. 249). Fredrickson (2013) complements this observation by stating that love (and its benefits) cannot be a matter of one person, but resides in pairs or groups of people. For Seligman (2011), close relationships are of uttermost importance as well. They are embodied by the letter R in the acronym PERMA which represents his framework of human flourishing.

There is ample evidence that experiencing a sense of relatedness is a fundamental need of humans (Baumeister & Leary, 1995) – and other mammals (Harlow, 1958). Accordingly, feeling close to others has several positive consequences. For instance, married couples on average are happier than singles or divorced women and men, and they also tend to live longer (Peterson, 2006; Fredrickson, 2013). Similar results have been found for long-lasting friendships (Myers, 2000; Demır & Weitekamp, 2007). Conversely, feeling lonely over longer periods of time has shown to be detrimental to our mood and, subsequently, health (de Jong Gierveld, 1998; Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010). In addition, researchers have shown that happiness tends to spread in social networks. Being surrounded by happy people results in an increased likelihood of being happy oneself (Fowler & Christakis, 2008; Christakis & Fowler, 2009).

Yet, there is another perspective on close relationships. The existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre coined the famous quote “Hell is other people” (1944, p. 191) and he may have had a point in saying so. After all, relationships are the source of some of our greatest joys, but also the context for some of our greatest sorrows. Couples regularly hurt each other (Feeney, 2004) and being physically abused is much more likely in the context of one´s family than with total strangers (Emery & Laumann-Billings, 1998). Even the aforementioned concept of social contagion can work against us. While there is statistical evidence that happiness can be transferred from one person to another, the same holds true for unhappiness and even depression (Rosenquist, Fowler, & Christakis, 2010). So what is the solution here? Are other people heaven – or are they hell after all?

The truth is: even Sartre did not believe that being around other people is necessarily bad for us. He seemed to be rather unhappy when being narrowed down to this infamous quote. Some 20 years later he said:

“Hell is other people” has always been misunderstood. People thought that what I meant by it is that our relations with others are always rotten or illicit. But I mean something entirely different. I mean that if our relations with others are twisted or corrupted, then others have to be hell. Fundamentally, others are what is important in us for our understanding of ourselves. (Sartre, 1965; cited in Contat & Rybalka, 1974, p. 99)

Obviously, Sartre emphasizes the quality of our relationships when contemplating the outcomes of being with other people. Having close relationships can have all the above mentioned upshots – but as humans we also have the potential to spoil these positive consequences if we are not careful enough.

In this spirit, I will now try to make a point that at present I cannot really substantiate with scientific research – but which may hold some truth nonetheless. I believe that in order to be happy in a relationship (be it friendship, marriage, or being part of a larger community), one has to be happy with oneself already – at least to a certain extent. This may be a case of “mesearch”, but then again, it may also be true. It is not at all unlikely that there is a kind of threshold, a minimum level of self-liking or -love that is a precondition for entering into fulfilling relationships with other human beings. To make this point, let´s reconsider the research on married couples. While it is fairly unequivocal that married people are at least a little bit happier than non-married people on average, it is not at all clear if this is due to a causal relationship. Consequently, we do not know for sure that marrying produces happiness. It might just as well be true that people who are already happy before getting married stand a better chance of finding and keeping a life partner (Peterson, 2006). Looking at my own life, I find this to be true. Now that I am married man and have child, I am definitely happier than I was before having met my wife. But: I definitely needed to “come to terms with myself” first in order to be prepared to let myself in for this relationship. Once again: I could not find any convincing empirical evidence for this idea – but I am fairly sure that many people would agree based on their own experiences.

To conclude, I propose that well-being neither resides in the individual alone, nor that it is solely confined to instances where we are with other people. Happiness and well-being are certainly multiplied when shared with others – but we have to “bring something to the table” in the first place in order to make it work.

References

  • Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497-529.
  • Christakis, N. A., & Fowler, J. H. (2009). Connected: The surprising power of our social networks and how they shape our lives. New York: Little Brown and Company.
    Contat, M., & Rybalka, M. A. (1974). The writings of Jean-Paul Sartre (Vol.1). Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
  • de Jong Gierveld, J. (1998). A review of loneliness: Concept and definitions, determinants and consequences. Reviews in Clinical Gerontology, 8, 73-80.
  • Demır, M., & Weitekamp, L. A. (2007). I am so happy ’cause today I found my friend: Friendship and personality as predictors of happiness. Journal of Happiness Studies, 8(2), 181-211.
  • Emery, R. E., & Laumann-Billings, L. (1998). An overview of the nature, causes, and consequences of abusive family relationships: Toward differentiating maltreatment and violence. American Psychologist, 53(2), 121-135.
  • Feeney, J. A. (2004). Hurt feelings in couple relationships: Towards integrative models of the negative effects of hurtful events. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 21(4), 487-508.
  • Fowler, J. H., & Christakis, N. A. (2008). Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: Longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study. British Medical Journal, 337, a2338.
  • Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Love 2.0: How our supreme emotion affects everything we feel, think, do, and become. New York: Hudson Street Press.
  • Harlow, H. F. (1958). The nature of love. American Psychologist, 13, 673-685.
  • Hawkley, L. C., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2010). Loneliness matters: a theoretical and empirical review of consequences and mechanisms. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 40(2), 218-227.
  • Myers, D. G. (2000). The funds, friends, and faith of happy people. American Psychologist, 55(1), 56-67.
  • Peterson, C. (2006). A primer in positive psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Reis, H. T., & Gable, S. L. (2003). Toward a positive psychology of relationships. In C. L. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.), Flourishing: The positive person and the good life (pp. 129–159). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Rosenquist, J. N., Fowler, J. H., & Christakis, N. A. (2010). Social network determinants of depression. Molecular psychiatry, 16(3), 273-281.
  • Sartre, J.-P. (1944). In camera and other plays. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
  • Seligman, M. E. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press.

There is no way to Happiness. Happiness is the way. But: to what or where?

“There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.” is a quote by the Buddha. I have not spoken to him in person (at least not to his 2,500 B.C. incarnation…) but what he probably meant is that happiness is not a goal that can be attained (for good). Rather, happiness is a consequence (or rather: byproduct) of doing certain things – and refraining from doing certain other things. This view opposes modern materialistic notions of life where we are repeatedly told something along the lines of “If you achieve X/if you manage to get Y – then you´ll be happy.”

Buddha´s quote is in line with other great thinkers of his time: Aristotle thought that eudaimonia (the “good life”, flourishing) was a byproduct of leading a virtuous life, where a virtue can be found right in the middle between two vices (e.g., courage lies between cowardice and imprudence). Confucius equally propagated leading a life guided by certain virtues. For instance, he formulated an early version of the Golden Rule that was made famous in the West by my compatriot Immanuel Kant.

The Science of Positive Psychology takes these sages at their word – and has gathered some empirical evidence on the issues. By way of example, happiness is a consequence of…

But if happiness is a way instead of a destination – I assume it´s also reasonable to ask: the way to what or where?

Man and Dog at Dawn

Typically, we ask ourselves what we have to do in order to be happy. But what if happiness is not the goal?

What if happiness were the input variable – not the outcome?

By now, we do know a lot about this way of looking at psychological well-being. For instance, happiness leads to …

In order to start being happy right now, I suggest you (re-)visit this video

Mindfulness as a Meta-Competence for Positive Interventions

The MAPP program is a fulltime program – but combines onsite classes with long-distance learning periods. Part of the distance learning comprises a lot of reading (Who would have thought of that…) and writing essays about a wide array of positive psychology topics. I´ve decided to post some of those essays here on Mappalicious. Surely, they´re not the be-all and end-all of academic writing. But then again, it would also be a pity to bury them in the depths of my laptop…

Mindfullness - Meditation

A common goal of positive interventions is to affect at least one element of PERMA or adjacent constructs of wellbeing in a desired direction. As positive interventions require consciously carrying out certain goal-directed behaviors (occasionally, over longer periods of time), it is reasonable to argue that the capacity to consciously direct one´s attention (as practiced e.g., in mindfulness exercises) is a meta-competence that will help to strengthen our capacity for self-regulation and thereby to successfully carry out most, if not all, positive interventions.

This notion is in line with self-determination theory. It asserts that human motivation is based upon of two different categories: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. People carry out intrinsically motivated actions because of their inherent gratification. In that case, only a minimum of self-regulatory effort is needed in order to sustain these behaviors. On the other hand, extrinsically motivated behaviors require a certain amount of self-regulatory effort in order to be sustained, where the level of regulation needed varies according to the extent of perceived autonomy. Perceived autonomy in turn varies from complete external regulation, via introjected and identified regulation, to integrated regulation, which in its psychological properties comes as close a possible to intrinsic motivation (Brown, & Ryan, 2004). The authors conjecture that, with the exception of early childhood, most of our behaviors are externally motivated at least to some extent so that increasing our capacity for self-regulation is crucial for living a productive life. In addition, they reason that in order to experience intrinsic motivation, a person needs to MBSR) is one way of working towards that goal.

Salovey, Caruso, and Mayer (2004) propose that emotional intelligence (EI) is a key element in leading a successful life. On closer inspection, it is reasonable to argue that there is a distinct overlap between the concept of mindfulness and the conceptualization of emotional intelligence. The aforementioned authors define EI as the capability to reflect on emotions and at the same time to utilize emotions to facilitate thinking. They contend that EI can be grouped into four sets of related skills: (a) perceiving emotions in others and oneself; (b) capitalizing on emotions to facilitate reasoning, e.g., by evoking certain emotional states to foster problem-solving or creativity; (c) understanding emotions, e.g., the antecedents and implications of certain feelings; and (d) dealing with emotions so that that personal development is enhanced. I argue that, while not all elements of emotional intelligence can be narrowed down to mindfulness, at the least engaging in conscious perception and reflection of one´s emotions is a crucial element of mindfulness.

Interestingly, Baumeister, Gailliot, DeWall, and Oaten (2006) argue that self-regulation can be conceptualized as a limited resource similar to a form of energy. When this ‘psychological capital’ has been spent, a person temporarily experiences a condition of ego depletion, a state where additional exertion of self-regulation is considerably less effective than usual. It seems that the same resource is employed for a variety of activities that have little in common other than that the self is modifying its primary response in a given situation. In addition, there is considerable evidence that we are able to increase our ‘self-regulatory muscle’ by means of regular exercise. These improvements typically are not restricted to the specific task domain of the exercise, thereby supporting the notion that improving self-regulation functions by strengthening a universal capability rather than a specific competence. The authors introduce several exercises that help to strengthen our capacity for self-regulation, e.g., physical exercise or correcting one´s posture to an upright position whenever it comes into consciousness. I maintain that practicing mindfulness can be another way of strengthening our self-regulatory muscle. In turn, this should help to sustain the required effort when carrying out a positive intervention, especially over a longer period of time.

Finally, if practicing mindfulness indeed promotes the successful execution of positive interventions, this outcome should be reinforced by additionally cultivating our self-efficacy in this domain of life. Self-efficacy can be described as a specific kind of belief about our capability to organize abilities to achieve a chosen objective in a particular setting. Therefore, the concept plays a crucial role in goal-directed self-regulation for several reasons: First, the level of self-efficacy influences the goals we set for ourselves. Typically, the higher our self-efficacy in a specific domain, the more challenging the goals we choose. Second, it influences the psychological reactions we experience in the process of working on a goal. E.g., under a condition of high self-efficacy, we tend to deploy more effort in the face of challenges. Third, self-efficacy directly influences specific areas of our performance, in that people who display a high level of self-efficacy tend to use their mental resources more effectively when trying to solve a given problem (Maddux, 2009). Taking all this into account, it can be assumed that cultivating mindfulness will help to develop self-efficacy through enabling successful execution of positive interventions.

To summarize: I argue that cultivating mindfulness as a technique for controlling our conscious attention can function as a valuable resource when trying to perform positive interventions. Being able to concentrate is beneficial to self-regulation which in turn is an important prerequisite for the successful application of positive interventions. This experience of success in turn strengthens self-efficacy which in turn helps to sustain the required energy for staying on the worthwhile path of personal development.

References

Baumeister, R. F., Gailliot, M., DeWall, C. N., & Oaten, M. (2006). Self-regulation and personality: How interventions increase regulatory success, and how depletion moderates the effects of traits on behavior. Journal of Personality, 74(6), 1773-1802.

Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2004). Fostering healthy self-regulation from within and without: A self-determination theory perspective. In P. A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.), Positive Psychology in Practice (pp. 105-124). Hoboken: Wiley.

Maddux, J. E. (2009). Self-efficacy: The power of believing you can. In S. J. Lopez & C. R. Snyder (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology, 2. edition (pp. 335-343). New York: Oxford University Press.

Salovey, P., Caruso, D., & Mayer, J. D. (2004). Emotional intelligence in practice. In P. A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.), Positive Psychology in Practice (pp. 447-463). Hoboken: Wiley.

On Positive Psychology, Bullshit, and why you need a Chief Philosophy Officer (CPO)

At our recent onsite at Penn, we had a stimulating discussion on bullshit with James Pawelski – who wears the hat of MAPP´s academic director and at the same time that of Chief Philosophy Officer (CPO). Now the job of a philosopher is to sit in his/her armchair, ask you unnerving questions – and thereby shake the grounds of everything you ever believed in. Or at least something like that … which … probably … is a good thing. I don´t know.

By the way, that´s by far the easiest way to be philosophic: Just say “I don´t know” a lot. But you have to say it in a smirk philosophic kind of tone – or else, you´re just a dumbass who, well, doesn´t know stuff. Which brings me to the question: Do our schools teach us to be anti-philosophers? After all, saying “I don´t know” a lot in class will surely get you in trouble – while a decent capability in the fine art bullshitting can get you at least half-way through your Ph.D. program – and sometimes, published in first-tier journals.

So, I just wanted to write something along the lines of “But I digress…” to lead over to next section. Yet, curiously – I´m already there. Philosophy moves in mysterious ways…

When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off.

Positive Psychology = BullshitWhat is that thing: Bullshit? Well, what I like about philosophers so much is the fact that there are so many of them – and that they´ve started doing what they do (“philosophizing”…) more than 2,500 years ago. So there´s a really good chance that – whenever you have a question or a problem – some philosopher will already have thought about it. Most certainly, this is true for the subject of bullshit. Harry G. Frankfurt, professor emeritus of Princeton, has written a witty (and for a philosophical piece) pleasantly short and graspable essay on that overdue topic.

The essay starts with the skillfully crafted sentence “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.” and then moves on to explain why that could be the case; to finally define the nature of bullshit – especially in its relationship to adjacent concepts such as “truth” and “lie”. The following section represents a good synopsis of Frankfurt´s argument:

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

So where does Positive Psychology fit in here? And why is it really a good thing (I´m being honest to Flying Spaghetti Monster here!) to have a CPO somewhere at your side?

The truth is: a lot of the subjects in Positive Psychology sound like pure bullshit on the face of it. We´re all about well-being, happiness, virtues, meaning, and other fuzzy wishy-washy touchy-feely stuff. It is quite easy to get carried away in those diffuse realms of the conditio humana.* What separates Positive Psychology as a science from all that self-help literature out there is … well, that it´s a science. We give our best to approach that touchy-feely stuff with double-blind experiments, large-scale, and longitudinal research designs. We like to sell our pudding, point well-taken, but want to make sure first that there is enough scientific proof to it.

Our CPO James Pawelski really helps us to stay “grounded” while wrestling with all those new and exciting Positive Psychology concepts. He supports us in sharpening our minds while moving forward on our learning journey. He never gets tired of reminding us to be careful about what we say, how we say it, and to be aware of the assumptions our newfound knowledge is based upon.

And: he can talk for three hours nonstop just about the different meanings of the word “positive” in Positive Psychology. It´s a beautiful thing to behold.

What he does is absolutely essential. Already, there are prominent people out there that seem not to be able (or willing…) to grasp the difference between ordinary self-help lingo and the science of Positive Psychology. All the more we have to be careful. We have to know where our very own “red line” is – the one that crosses that grey area where talking about something we sufficiently know and understand turns into bullshitting. In Frankfurt´s words:

Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more excessive than his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic.

Thus, I stop at this point. My knowledge of bullshit is exhausted.

 

*Throwing in some Latin or Greek in your writing makes you sound very philosophical. Especially, when you say “I don´t know” in Latin or Greek…

PowerPoint slide © James Pawelski; photographed by Katrina Calihan

Zen Mind, Beginner´s Mind: Rain – for the very first time…

If you read my blog regularly, you´ll know by now that I blog about my son once in a while. I just love to watch him while he explores this world – and he is very good teacher. In (Zen) Buddhism, they put a lot of emphasis on cultivation a “beginner´s mind”, meaning one should let go of all preconceptions, rigid thinking, and dualistic distinctions. The goal is to see things as they really are – nothing more, and nothing less. For grown-ups, this is an almost impossible thing to do. Once a concept has entered our mind, it is incredibly hard to shake off. You can experience this effect via looking at pictures like this. Once you know what you´re looking at, it´s practically impossible to not see it any more.

All the more, it is an incredible thing to watch a beautiful child experience something for the very first time – as in this video. Enjoy!

Kayden + Rain from Nicole Byon on Vimeo.

Positive Psychology Courses: 20 Educational Chances of a Lifetime

A couple of days ago, I posted a link to a website that lists 10 exceptional courses and university programs in Positive Psychology. After that, the link went somewhat viral and the website got a lot of feedback. As a consequence, the writers were able to extend that list to 20 courses. So here you´ll find the 10 further exciting learning opportunities in Positive Psychology

PP_Programs_2

Adam Grant on the “#1 Feature of a Meaningless Job”

Yesterday I wrote a blog post about Yale professor Amy Wrzesniewski who is a highly decorated researcher in the area of meaning and purpose on the job. I was delighted to see that Adam Grant, the youngest tenured professor at Wharton Business School (and who´ll teach in MAPP in April) and author of Give and Take has recently written a blog post on a similar subject on LinkedIn. Enjoy!

What “gives Life” to your Organization? Appreciative Inquiry and the Quest for the “Positive Core”

AI_4_DAt the January MAPP onsite, one of our guest speakers was David Cooperrider. He has (co-)developed Appreciative Inquiry (AI), a method of organizational development that is rooted in Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS). It´s a bit hard to explain it in a few words; therefore, I´ll let other people do the talking. The first video below is a short interview with David Cooperrider on the foundations and underlying assumption of AI. The second one is a bit longer and explains the whole AI process in a very graspable way.

Let me just say this much: the word “appreciate” is typically understood in the sense of “highly valued” – but can also mean “increasing something in value”. Therefore, things we appreciate grow in their value precisely because of our appreciation. To make use of a little oversimplification:

Whatever we put most energy into – grows. So if we focus a lot of energy on problems and problem-fixing – there´s a good chance there will be more problems. But if we instead put emphasis on strengths and what is already good – those aspects tend to grow. That´s exactly what AI tries to do – by asking the right questions (that´s where the “inquiry” in AI comes from). Enjoy!

What is AI?

Following your Bliss vs. following your Blisters

I´m sitting at “Vino Volo”, Philly airport right now. The 7th onsite of MAPP 2013/14 is over. It was another incredible, intensive, incomparable experience – not only thanks to the program itself, but due to the other participants. A big shout-out especially goes to Ann Brafford and Patricia De La Torre.

The hardest part always seems to choose what to write about afterwards. There´s so much good stuff out there – and I only have time to write about a few things. Yesterday afternoon, our guest lecturer was Yale´s Amy Wrzesniewski. Wrzesniewski is one of the world´s most renowned researchers on meaning and purpose on the job, (career) callings, and turning the job you have into the job you want (job crafting).

Towards the end of her lecture, she touched upon the topic that is displayed in the title of this post: Should we follow our bliss – or our blisters in order to have a fulfilling and successful (work) life? Both phrases were coined by mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell who, based on his literary studies, developed the theory of the Monomyth. The idea in short is that basically all great stories (from Homer´s Iliad to Harry Potter) are based on the same universal storytelling structure: the Hero´s Journey.

The following quote can be found in his book “The Power of Myth”:

If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are—if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.

A lot of Campbell´s students obviously misinterpreted his quote as an advice to embrace hedonism as the path to happiness, to pursue “feeling good no matter what”. Late in his life and frustrated with this development, Campbell purportedly made the remark “I should have said, ‘Follow your blisters’.”

Had those students paid more attention to the structure of the Monomyth they would have grasped that the bliss in “follow your bliss” cannot be about pleasure alone. The Hero´s Journey is a path that entails great struggle, pain, and even losing (parts of) oneself: Luke Skywalker and Frodo Baggins both lose a part of their body before defeating evil for good.

This notion can be made clearer when replacing the term “bliss” with “passion”. Passion is based on the Latin word “passio” which means “suffering” or “enduring” (as in “The Passion of Christ”). Only much later did it acquire its meaning of “enthusiasm” and “strong liking”. Consider this image (source):

What success looks like

The drawing mirrors sayings such as “No Cross, no Crown” or “No Pain, no Gain”. Despite thousands of books offering us a shortcuts to “success and everything we ever wanted”, intuitively most of us know that the picture on the right is the real deal – and the one on the left (in 99,9% of all cases) is Bullshit (as defined by Harry G. Frankfurt).

Every melody would be played in C major. Every painting would depict beautiful water lilies. Every story would begin with “and they lived happily ever after”.

And how lackluster our lives would be if the left side were an effigy of truth: Every melody would be played in C major. Every painting would depict lovely water lilies. Every story would begin with “and they lived happily ever after”. Such a life would not be worth living.

Dear shortcut vendors, here´s what Yoda (picture source) has to say to you:

Yoda - Up the shut fuck you must