The brand new, 2,400-years-old Science of fighting Depression

A couple of days a go, I stumbled upon two TEDx talks by clinical neuroscientist Stephen Ilardi (University of Kansas). He shares how we can “naturally” (without taking antidepressants) fight depression. The talks are instructive and entertaining, yet pretty similar to each other – so if you´re short on time, it´s probably sufficient to watch only one of them. Here´s the summary:

We were never designed for the sedentary, indoor, sleep-deprived, socially-isolated, fast-food-laden, frenetic pace of modern life.

Accordingly, among the most potent remedies for depression are:

  • going outside (daylight);
  • moderate exercise;
  • eating healthy food;
  • getting enough sleep;
  • and spending time with the people you love.

And while I´m happy and impressed that these recommendations are now being backed by “hard science”, I guess we should have known all along. Here are some quotes by Greek physician and “father of Western medicine” Hippocrates (460 – 370 BC).

If you are in a bad mood go for a walk.

To do nothing is also a good remedy.

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Why it´s good to have Tea with your dead Aunt once in a while

In my late twenties and early thirties, I was really into Zen Buddhism. I took zazen meditation lessons (stopped it, I think it´s just not for me…), practiced martial arts, and read almost anything related I could get my hands on. I remember a story that was about conquering our fears, where a monk would lay his head inside a dragon´s open jaw – in order to rid himself of the fear of…well…dragons.

I deeply sympathize with this approach of “accepting what´s there” – it´s one of those crucial points where the more helpful spiritual and therapeutic traditions of East and West regularly meet and become friends (e.g., see Kristin Neff´s outline on self-compassion to get an idea for a more Western take on the concept).

I’ve got 99 problems and 93 of them are completely made up scenarios in my head that I’m stressing about for absolutely no reason. (multiple attributions)

John_CageWhile writing this, I remember another sage basically taught me the same lesson almost a decade before my deep-dive into Buddhism. One of my all-time favorites on TV is Ally McBeal. Every other year or so, I start another binge-watching weekend. I still love the affectionately exaggerated characters, the idea of visually externalizing the protagonists´ feelings, and the fabulous blending of music with plot and personal development. Here´s the dialogue that came to my mind:

John: I used to have a hallucination where my dead aunt kept wanting to have tea with me. It went for two years before I finally stopped her.
Ally: How did you stop her?
John: I had tea with her.

Here´s to our dead aunts!

Positive Psychology News Digest on Mappalicious | No. 4/16

My favorite pieces covering Positive Psychology and adjacent from (roughly) the last seven days:

New York Times: You Are Stronger Than You (and Your Therapist) Think by Michael Bennett


Scientific American: The Science of Healing Thoughts by Gareth Cook


The Guardian: Is mindfulness making us ill? by Dawn Foster


Penn Current: Q&A with Scott Barry Kaufman by Lauren Hertzler


Stanford GSB: Should Employees Design Their Own Jobs? by Louise Lee


Fast Company: It takes more than just being a good person yourself to inspire ethical conduct in employees by David Mayer


Knowledge@Wharton: Why Compassion Serves You Better Than Self-interest by Emma Seppälä


Fast Company: The Surprising Link Between Compassion And Success by Emma Seppälä


Forbes: One Powerful Step That Can Turn Around Your Trading Psychology by Brett Steenbarger


Greater Good Science Center: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Kinder by Jill Suttie

Positive Psychology | News Digest | Mappalicious

The healthiest Companies outperform their Competition on the Stock Market

Smiling - MappaliciousAre you working for a company that treats you like a valuable human being? Do they care about your psychological and physiological health? Yes? Good for you! And good for them as well!

A couple of weeks ago, I shared Alex Edmans´ studies on how the “Best Companies to work for” in the U.S. outperform their competitors on the stock market. Now here comes another piece of compelling evidence for the idea that treating your employees exceptionally well is not a cost factor, but rather gives your company an edge pertaining to financial performance. For a study published in the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, a group of researchers compared the stock market performance of companies that were awarded the “. Everett Koop National Health Award”(a prestigious award for companies running outstanding employee health programs named after a former Surgeon General) with the average performance of companies comprising the Standard and Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index. What they´ve found:

The Koop Award portfolio outperformed the S&P 500 Index. In the 14-year period tracked (2000–2014), Koop Award winners’ stock values appreciated by 325% compared with the market average appreciation of 105%.

The researchers conclude that “this study supports prior and ongoing research demonstrating a higher market valuation – an affirmation of business success by Wall Street investors – of socially responsible companies that invest in the health and well-being of their workers when compared with other publicly traded firms.”

 

Image via Gratisography

 

The Meaning of Life according to different Philosophers [Infographic)

This is another brilliant infographic by information designer extraordinaire Anna Vital (see her simply beautiful work on self-compassion here) – where the content is highly relevant to Positive Psychology. Please check out her website to see more of her amazing work.   

Loneliness is a Killer! A TEDx Talk and the Story of my Life

One of the central tenets of Positive Psychology is Other People Matter, coined by the late Prof. Christopher Peterson. If you want to learn just how much they matter to your happiness and your health, you might want to watch this TED talk by Prof. John Cacioppo from University of Chicago.

My Story

Now, I perfectly know from my own life what Prof. Cacioppo is talking about. When I was 16, I went to the USA for a year to attend high school and improve my English skills. I left my family and friends behind – platforms such as Skype and Facebook weren’t available (in fact, Mark Zuckerberg probably was entering middle school at that time). I agreed to have a phone call with my parents only every other Sunday – in order not to abet homesickness. Bad idea, most likely…

For reasons which are to complex and difficult to explain (if it can be explained at all – because every person will have a very different vantage point…), this was by far the loneliest year of my life. I found it hard to connect to my guest families and the larger part of my schoolmates.* For most of the time, m closest social connections consisted of other exchange students (during school hours) and the folks I encountered during basketball pick-up games (in the afternoon). Other than that, for most of the year, I felt utterly alone and devoid of warm social connections, let alone love.

I am now perfectly aware what a situation like this does to your body and your soul. When I came to the U.S., I was a healthy and (ordinarily) happy teenager. By the time I went home, I had developed allergy-based asthma, suffered from recurring panic attacks, and was – according to what I´ve learned during my psychology studies later in life –  more than mildly depressed (including, at times, suicidal thoughts). It took me several years to shake all of this off – but I did.

Full Circle

To end this post on a high note (or rather: two high notes), I have to add that even though this was probably the worst year of my life, that doesn´t mean it hasn’t been a valuable experience. On the one hand, it´s a classic case of “What doesn´t kill me makes me stronger“. On the other hand – and that may be a strangely wonderful twist of fate – this year gave my life a whole new direction. The high school I attended offered psychology as an elective course. These two hours or so every week always were among the regular lights at the end of my tunnel. And I think my psychology teacher is the reason why I chose to pursue that profession later on in my life.

And then, there´s this other – equally beautiful and strange – twist of fate. Mappalicious exists as a blog because I was part of the ninth cohort of the Master of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania – it started as a kind of diary. So, 19 years after what I´ve described above, I spent another year in the U.S. (more precisely, several days per months as travelled back and forth between Germany and Philly). Actually, it all happened only about a hundred miles from where I went to school.

And boy, what a difference it has been. It´s been a year full of human bonding, a time of joy, and caring, and yes: love. And, in the light of my past, it´s been a year of healing. Full circle.

Nico Rose - MAPP - Penn Graduation

* I´m not blaming anybody, because it´s actually nobody´s fault. Let´s just say that U.S. high schools can be a pretty tough environment when you´re not exactly part of the in-crowd…

 

Positive Psychology News Digest on Mappalicious | No. 3/16

My favorite pieces covering Positive Psychology and adjacent from (roughly) the last seven days:

Quartz: The Stanford professor who pioneered praising kids for effort says we’ve totally missed the point by Jenny Anderson


Harvard Business Review: Manage your Emotional Culture by Sigal Barsade & Olivia O’Neill


Harvard Business Review: We Learn More When We Learn Together by Jane Dutton & Emily Heaphy


New York Times: Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate by Adam Grant


Fulfillment Daily: The Surprising Benefit Of Going Through Hard Times by Carolyn Gregoire


PositiveSharing.com: The 5 most important findings from the science of happiness that apply at work by Alexander Kjerulf


Forbes: Mapping World Happiness And Conflict Through Global News And Image Mining by Kalev Leetaru


Psychology Today: The One Thing To Know About Happiness by Andrea Polard


Psychology Today: 6 Surefire Ways To Increase Your Charisma – Backed by Science by Emma Seppälä

Positive Psychology | News Digest | Mappalicious