People often approach me to ask where they can study Positive Psychology in German and get an “official” degree from a University, not from a private institution. Last week at a research conference, I ran into Prof. Willibald Ruch from UZH | Zurich University, who´s among the “big shots” in the field with respect to all things (VIA) character strengths. He´s worked directly with the late Christopher Peterson on some papers.
Willi made me aware of a 2-semester course on Positive Psychology they run at UZH. You can find out everything (in German) via this site. Please note this is a course for professionals, so you already need to have a master´s degree in psychology or a related field to be admitted.
If you have children and are keen to discover their character strengths, you can find a free test adapted for children on Seligman´s website at the University of Pennsylvania. But how do you talk to your children about the results – or the value and use of character strengths in general?
One fantastic (but not completely free…) opportunity is offered by my fellow MAPP alum Renee Jain. Meet the Dynamos – via an amazing workbook! In the words of their creators:
Dynamos are tiny and powerful beings from the planet Dynamis. Each Dynamo comes into the universe possessing a unique Dynamic or character strength as well as a Supertool to amplify their strength. Children will enjoy learning about character strengths by getting to know the Dynamos and their Supertools.
Kids can read each story in this workbook and then decide which Dynamo (representing a character strength) could be used to effectively solve the problem presented. This workbook is ideal if you’re teaching character education at school or at home.
Find and out about and purchase the workbook via GoZen!
This list includes valuable tips, exercises and “hacks” to be happier and lead a more meaningful life. All of these recommendations are backed by psychological science. In case you are interested to learn more, I´ve included links to some research articles that have examined the corresponding topic. No. 12 – 22 are listed here, No. 23 – 33 ½ will be published soon. The pieces of advice are ordered (roughly) by difficulty/level of effort etc. Share and enjoy!
12) Sing when you´re winning
Just like dancing, singing seems to be a natural anti-depressant. Singing is enjoyable and a very healthy kind of physical activity. It doesn´t matter if you sing in the shower, the car, or for an audience. And it surely doesn’t matter if your singing is good or bad. An especially beneficial way seems to be joining a choir. In doing so, people additional profit from the social support such an environment entails.
Good things that have happened in the past can be a powerful mood (and meaning) booster for the present. It could be our fondest childhood memories, our wedding day, or that beautiful sunset from our last vacation: Actively remembering these events can turn today into a brighter day. Accordingly, it´s helpful to create what positive psychologists like to call a positive portfolio. This is a box or a folder (these days, probably a digital one) where you keep especially uplifting memories, such as the wedding video, the first photo of your kid, your favorite piece of music etc.
Conventional wisdom holds that money cannot buy happiness. And while the best things in life are really (more or less free), most things do cost some money. Now, a sizeable body of research shows that investing our money in experiences such as concerts and vacations will be more beneficial for our long-term happiness than buying “stuff”. First, those events are typically shared experiences, second they can be re-lived in memory (see No.13), and third, especially memorable experiences seem to become parts of our selves, an integral part of “our story” – whereas the “stuff” will mostly be gone at some point in the future.
If you´re neither into concerts nor vacations (see No. 14), and you don´t like to buy stuff, it could be a great idea to spend your dough on other people. There´s abundant empirical evidence for the notion that giving money to others (e.g., via charity) can be a veritable happiness booster. Some studies find that spending your bucks on others is much more beneficial for our emotional wellbeing than keeping it for ourselves. If you don´t know where to start: Mashable provides a great overview of online funding sites.
Truth is: the world is a much better place than we think it is. Our senses and our brains are gauged to pay attention to and process negative information much more thoroughly than positive stimuli (see this post for more info). News editors are well aware of this fact and select their stories accordingly. When these two mechanisms join forces, our perspective on the state of the world can become pretty gloomy and depressive. At this point, it could be helpful to practice what Positive Psychologists like to call realistic optimism. It´s not based on seeing everything through rose-colored glasses, but rather on thorough investigation of facts and probabilities. A good way to start this is to learn how to fight off unwarranted negative thoughts. For information on how to do this, please visit this post on Positive Psychology News Daily.
Flow (as described by eminent Positive Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi) is a state in which a person is fully immersed in a feeling of focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of pursuing a specific activity. It´s a surefire way to satisfaction and personal growth. The experience of Flow is dependent on a set of internal and external conditions, among them, focusing on a single goal and shutting of any distractions (see Wikipedia for an overview). There´s a great article on Fast Company about companies that try to enable better conditions for Flow at work.
One of the hallmarks of Positive Psychology is a taxonomy of 24 character strengths. You can find out what your top attributes are (so-called signature strengths) for free when visiting the website of the VIA Institute on Character (mine are: curiosity, zest, and love of leaning). There, you´ll also find tons of information on how to use that knowledge in order to lead a more satisfying life. Generally speaking, the more we use our most pronounced strengths (e.g., in our occupation), the happier we are.
Recommendation No. 15 already touched the beneficial effects of pro-social spending for our own happiness. The same can be said pertaining to pro-social behavior, e.g., volunteering and committing random acts of kindness. There seem to be positive short-term consequences for our mood (so-called helpers high) but also long-term effects. When we help others, our life becomes more meaningful – and that´s a source of happiness in its own right.
Writing is one of the most potent methods for “getting a grip” on life. It can help us to focus our attention on the goods things (see No. 11) or, alternatively, to come to terms with bad events, especially as a way of creating mental and emotional distance. If you´re not sure how to start, you’ll find advice in this article on Psychology Today.
It has been shown that humans have lived together with domesticated animals for at least 500.000 years. Pets can be a valuable source of comfort, amusement, and distraction. As such, research shows that living with pets has several beneficial long-term effects for our psychological and physiological health, especially for children. Just a word of advice: Before you bring Lassie home, please make sure that you and your family are prepared and willing to take on the responsibility of owning a pet (hint: cats are much more low-maintenance than dogs).
Typically, our social network (the non-virtual one, a.k.a. family and friends) is one of the most important sources of comfort and satisfaction in our lives. Now, the interesting thing is: almost everything can spread through these networks by means of social contagion. E.g., if of most of your friends are fitness freaks, your risk for obesity is considerably lower than when most of them are a little on the chubby side. The same goes for things like smoking, and even activities such as getting married. And this mechanism also holds true for emotions such as happiness (as well as depression). Bottom line: if your posse is a really cheerful bunch of people, this will positively influence your own emotional wellbeing in the long run (at least statistically). Conversely, this also means it could be beneficial to rid yourself of some “forms of energy” in your life.
I´m very happy to announce that recently, I have become an IPEN Global Representative. IPEN (International Positive Education Network) is an initiative to “bring together teachers, parents, academics, students, schools, colleges, universities, charities, companies and governments to promote positive education.” The group of Global Representatives volunteers to help IPEN to “spread the word” on Positive Education (in their respective countries of origin).
To start, I´ve compiled a list of 12 eminent research articles on Positive Education, the links will lead to the respective PDFs. Enjoy!
“In Broadcasting Happiness, Gielan shows us how our words can move people from fearbased mindsets, where they see obstacles as insurmountable, to positive mindsets, where they see that change is possible and take action. Using scientifically proven communication strategies, we have the ability to increase others’ happiness and success at work, as well as our own, instantly making us more effective leaders.”
The book brings Peterson´s and Seligman´s character strengths “to life with stories involving children, teenagers, adults, and elders and occurring in family life and business settings, in the present and in the distant past, in locations from China to the United States to the Middle East. Research shows that using character strengths in new ways for a week makes people happier up to six months later. This book includes many ideas for using your character strengths in new ways.”
“Drawing on the latest findings from the fields of cognitive psychology and neuroscience—research on happiness, resilience, willpower, compassion, positive stress, creativity, mindfulness—Seppälä shows that finding happiness and fulfillment may, in fact, be the most productive thing we can do to thrive professionally.”
Angela Duckworth: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. If you are remotely interested in Positive Psychology, it is not necessary to introduce Angela, but for the sake of consistency in this article, she´s a professor at Penn´s Positive Psychology Center and a close colleague of Martin Seligman. About the book:
“Why do some people succeed and others fail? Sharing new insights from her landmark research on grit, MacArthur “genius” Angela Duckworth explains why talent is hardly a guarantor of success. Rather, other factors can be even more crucial such as identifying our passions and following through on our commitments.”
If you’re a bit like me, you do have a hard time talking about your strengths. As a German, I tend to be not that good at this – it basically is not really something that you do in our culture. I could tell you a long story about each and everyone of my flaws, but you probably don’t want to hear that.
Maybe you don’t even know what your strength are. So how are you going to find out? Obviously, there’s lots of tests and questionnaires out there. By way of example, you could take the Gallup StrengthFinder, or the VIA Questionnaire which will display your personal order of 24 character strengths according to a framework by Positive Psychology researchers Christopher Peterson and Marty Seligman.
But then, you might feel uncomfortable with regard to being assessed by an algorithm. Those tests are very reliable but on the other hand, they will only show you results depending on a fixed framework. What others really think of you or perceive as being your strengths could be a lot more nuanced than what those tests will be able to show you.
Granted, it might feel a little awkward asking other people to name your strength. The good thing is: there is a structured framework to achieve just that: the Best Reflected Self™ exercise. It was developed at University of Michigan´s Center for Positive Organizations and you can purchase the official exercise book there in case you want to use the that tool with your students or clients.
But basically, it involves just a couple of easy steps:
1) You ask a group of people that know you (friends, relatives, coworkers, clients etc.) to provide you with feedback. They should tell you what your strengths are from their point of view and ideally provide examples to back up their opinion. Instead of asking people in person, yesterday, I reached out to my network on Facebook to do just that:
2) You gather all the responses and try to identify common themes. Here, I tried to detect all the words that alluded to a strength, turned them into nouns, and then harmonized those terms that represent very similar concepts. Finally, I took the result and inserted it into http://www.wordle.net. Here´s what came out of it (it´s German, but I guess you´ll understand most of it anyway):
3) Now, write up a paragraph, summarizing your findings, describing what you are really, really good at: this is your personal strengths profile.
4) Finally, you should reflect on your current life roles with regard to this profile. E.g., does your current job give you frequent opportunities to play on your strengths? And if the answer is “no”: what could you do to adapt your role so it better reflects your best self (–> Job Crafting)?
I have to admit it was really touching to get all this positive feedback. Typically, when you work in an organization, you tend to get feedback (if things go well…) based on what you do well, but mostly on your potential (a.k.a.: where you need to improve).
Explicitly asking people to look on your bright side exclusively yields a special kind of learning experience – it´s like a mirror that somehow manages to make you look really, really good. I definitely know that it´s an idealized picture that I don’t live up to each and every day – but I know that I have it in me. And I can rely on it when life requires me to shine…