This is another cool infographic by Anna Vital (featured her work on Mappalicious here, here, here, and here in the past. I definitely prefer No. 1 (doing), 2 (searching inside), and 5 (reading). How about you?
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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)
While 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.
Probably not. But your Twitter account may at least have a say on your risk for developing heart disease. In a study published in the renowned journal “Psychological Science”, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania (among them MAPP alum Johannes Eichstaedt, MAPP lecturer Peggy Kern, and Martin Seligman himself) have shown that Twitter can serve as a dashboard indicator of a community’s psychological well-being and can predict rates of heart disease.
They found that frequent expressions of negative emotions such as anger, stress and fatigue in a county’s tweets were associated with higher heart disease risk. On the other hand, positive emotions like excitement and optimism were associated with lower risk. Having seen correlations between language and emotional states in previous study using Facebook posts, the researchers now examined if they could detect connections between those emotional states and physical outcomes rooted in them.
Drawing on a set of public tweets made between 2009 and 2010, they used established emotional dictionaries to analyze a random sample of tweets from individuals who had made their locations available. There were enough tweets and health data from about 1,300 counties, which contain 88 percent of the USA´s population.
Eichstaedt et al. found that negative emotional language and topics, such as words like “hate” remained strongly correlated with heart disease mortality, even after variables like income and education were taken into account. Positive emotional language showed the opposite correlation, suggesting that optimism and positive experiences, words like “wonderful” or “friends,” may be protective against heart disease. In the future, this data could be used to marshal evidence of the effectiveness of public-health interventions on the community level, or serve as valuable input in the process of planning locations for new medical facilities.
While the study does not make any claims about the heart disease risk of individuals, I still suggest monitoring your Twitter timeline from time to time for prophylactic reasons. E.g., you can use the website www.tweetstats.com to obtain a free and easy overview of your tweeting behavior, for instance, a word cloud displaying your most frequently used words and hash tags.
While psychology for the first hundred years of its existence as an academic discipline has very much focused on the negative spectrum of human emotions (fear, guilt, anger etc.), positive psychology looks mostly to the favorable end of that range. On the very far side of the positive sphere lies an emotion which hasn´t really gotten a lot of attention – until one of our MAPP lecturers, Jonathan Haidt, came along. This is emotion is awe. You can see what awe looks like on the face of the Little Guru. It´s a picture I took while he was watching his first display of fireworks ever. You can sense the unique blend of joy, fascination – and fear.
The element of fear marks the crucial difference compared to my wife´s facial expression: she´s seen a lot of fireworks in her life, so she´s just delighted; the angst is missing. Here´s what Haidt has to say on awe in an academic paper on that subject:
Two appraisals are present in all clear cases of awe: perceived vastness and a need for accommodation, defined as an inability to assimilate an experience into current mental structures.
Furthermore: “Awe is felt about diverse events and objects, from waterfalls to childbirth to scenes of devastation. Awe is central to the experience of religion, politics, nature, and art. Fleeting and rare, experiences of awe can change the course of a life in profound and permanent ways”. In addition, Haidt lists five appraisals that account for the “hedonic tone” of the awe experience:
So obviously we can experience awe e.g., via beholding forces of nature, a beautiful piece of art, Roger Federer playing tennis, by experiences such as might have happened to Paul (a.k.a. Saul), and also by witnessing acts of great virtue – as in this video of Team Hoyt (get a Kleenex first if you´ve never seen this before…).
If you´d like to learn more: Jonathan was featured on Oprah a while ago – and he also gave a TED talk touching these issues by the name of “Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence”: