These are the the ten keys to happier living according to Action for Happiness, a UK-Based NGO backed by luminaries such as the Daila Lama and Sir Richard Layard – focusing on disseminating knowledge on Positive Psychology to the general public and helping people to set up local meetings groups (among many other things). Please help to share the wisdom!
James Doty explains the neurological benefits of compassion.
“Project Compassion” has now turned into a leading research and educational institution and the only institution solely focused on the study of Compassion, Altruism and Empathy. Compassion improves the world; yet the world around us seems ever in need of greater feats of compassion.
How, then, can we create more compassion and inspire compassionate acts? And how is it that the brain and the heart work together to create compassion in the first place?
James Robert Doty, M.D., tackles these tough questions, examining the neural, mental, and social bases of compassion. He serves as Professor of Neurosurgery at Stanford University School of Medicine and Founder and Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) – of which the Dalai Lama is the founding benefactor.
He serves as Chairman of the Dalai Lama Foundation and as a member of the International Advisory Board of the Council of the Parliament of the World’s Religion.
Action for Happiness is a Positive Psychology-infused movement based in the U.K. It was started, among others, by LSE professor Richard Layard (author of the book “Happiness: Lessons from a New Science”; see his TED talk here) and the organization´s patron is the Dalai Lama. What do they do? In their own words:
Action for Happiness is a movement of people committed to building a happier and more caring society. We want to see a fundamentally different way of life – where people care less about what they can get just for themselves and more about the happiness of others.
We bring together like-minded people from all walks of life and help them take practical action, drawing on the latest scientific research. We are backed by leading experts from diverse fields including psychology, education, economics and social innovation.
Members of the movement make a simple pledge: to try to create more happiness in the world around them. We provide ideas and resources to enable people to take action at home, at work or in their community. Many of our members form local groups to take action together.
Here´s their introductory video on YouTube:
There´s a similar, albeit smaller, movement here in Germany: HeartLeaders. The focus is on bringing Positive Psychology to organizations and workplaces, sharing great advice and tools, e.g., for employee recognition and appreciation.
Even though the idea of compassion lies at the heart of virtually each and every religious and spiritual movement (with Buddhism and the Dalai Lama problably being the frontrunner), psychological science has ignored this important feature of our human nature for quite a long time, describing it as a subtype of other, more primary emotions. Starting with research on meditation, such as carried out by pioneers such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, the topic has slowly but surely entered the “regular” academic discourse. Nowadays, the science of compassion is a full-blown discipline, being researched, e.g., at Stanford´s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) or Berkeley´s Greater Good Science Center (GGSC).
In 2010, researchers Jennifer L. Goetz, Dacher Keltner, and Emiliana Simon-Thomas authored a review article that sought to make a case for the idea that compassion is a truly distinctive feature on the continuum of human behavior and emotion. Here´s what they have to say in their conclusion:
Our review reveals compassion to arise out of distinct appraisal processes, to have distinct display behaviors, distinct experiences, and an approach-related physiological response. The state like experience of compassion, and the trait like tendency to feel compassion, fall under the purview of three evolutionary arguments: that compassion evolved as part of a caregiving response to vulnerable offspring, that compassionate individuals were preferred in mate selection processes, and that compassion emerged as a desirable trait in cooperative relations between non-kin.
If you want to hear the full story, please read the aforementioned article. You may also want to watch this TEDx talk by Dacher Keltner (who´s the director of the aforementioned GGSC). Enjoy!
Today has been the third day of MAPP immersion week – another day packed with truly extraordinary experiences. Today´s lectures took place at Wharton Business School. For the morning, Martin Seligman invited a guest lecturer, Chandra Sripada, who introduced us to concept of the Default Mode Network of our brain – which basically represents the specific and recurring pattern of activation in the brain that can be seen in fMRI studies when the brain is supposed to be doing “nothing at all” (which obviously isn´t the case). Being in the default mode seems to be connected to the mental task of prospection which involves future-oriented problem-solving, creating mental simulations of the world and the minds of other people, and daydreaming (among other things). I´m pretty sure that I´ll write more about prospection in the near future (
no pun intended) – but I am still “digesting” all of that input – so this will have to do for today,
Over lunchtime, we were invited over to the Positive Psychology Center at Penn to meet, greet and eat with Seligman´s research team.
For the afternoon, Marty invited Barbara Fredrickson, the world´s foremost researcher on positive emotions and their role in human flourishing. She developed the Broaden-and-Build theory of positive emotion which basically posits that the reason why we experience positive emotions is fundamentally different from the reason for the existence of negative emotions. While negative emotions such as anxiety provoke narrow(ing), immediate survival-oriented behaviors, positive emotions are supposed to broaden our awareness and inspire novel, exploratory, and creative thoughts and/or actions. In turn, this expanded behavioral repertoire builds our skills, resources, and resilience. All of that needs some further mental digestion as well. You can find one of Barbara´s books on the reference list.
The high point of the day was an invitation from Martin Seligman and his wife Mandy for food and drinks at their house in the outskirts of Philadelphia. I feel very honored since usually, he´s more likely to associate with top-tier researchers, political and military leaders – or the Dalai Lama. Thanks for that one, Marty…