3 Questions for Emma Seppälä, Author of “The Happiness Track”

Emma_SeppäläEmma Seppälä, Ph.D is Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and author of the recently published book The Happiness Track. She is a frequent contributor to Harvard Business ReviewPsychology TodayHuffington Post, and Scientific American Mind.

Emma, if you had to describe your book in a short analogy (“We’re the Uber for x…” or something like that): What would it be?

The hack for success without stress.

I’m a manager and reaaaaally busy. If I had time to read only one chapter: Which one would you recommend – and why?

Read the second chapter on how to build your resilience. We believe we need high levels of adrenaline to get things done – so we over-caffeinate, over-schedule ourselves, and wait until the last minute to get things done. The result is not productivity, it’s burnout which is why we’re seeing 50% burnout across industries, 80% of doctor’s visits due to stress, and 75% of the American workforce disengaged. You can’t talk yourself out of stress but there is something you can do at the physiological way that will help you manage your energy, be more productive and emotionally intelligent, and be resilient in the face of the pressure and demands coming your way – cultivating physiological resilience. 

In all these years of studying Positive Psychology: What is the one scientific finding that intrigued you the most?

The finding that has intrigued – and inspired – me the most is that the best kept secret to happiness is to give it away. By uplifting others, supporting them, helping them and living a more compassionate life, not only will you be making everyone else happier, you will be happier, healthier and live a longer life too. It’s win-win!

Thank you very much and best of luck with The Happiness Track!

10 Propositions regarding (Positive) Emotions, especially Happiness

Good_AdviceBy now, I have written +400 blog posts on Positive Psychology and given +30 talks and presentations for different audiences, mostly in the realm of business. While I receive a lot of positive feedback (referring to the PP content; I´m not talking about my presentation style here), quite obviously, I also get some pushback once in a while. Over time, I´ve come to notice that most of the counterarguments I hear are based on a rather small set of “shared (mis-)conceptions”. I guess, a lot of these arise over time due to the fact that – for the sake of brevity – speeches and news articles on Positive Psychology have to simplify and overgeneralize their messages in order to get their points across. In order to structure my own thoughts vis-à-vis this situation – but also for discussion – in the following, you´ll find…

10 Propositions regarding (Positive) Emotions, especially Happiness

1) I feel, therefore I am. Emotions are among the very few constants in life. Where´s the consciousness, there´s emotion. They may not always be strong, and we may not always be aware – but they are there.

2) All emotions are valid and adaptive, depending on context and dose.

3) In excess, every emotion can and probably will have detrimental side effects.

4) Different emotions will have different consequences (e.g., for our overall health or the perception of “meaning in life”), especially in high doses and in the long-term.

5) Feelings are contagious and therefore, (almost) always “social”: What we do unto ourselves, we do unto others (to some degree). With that, there comes a responsibility.

6) Happiness is mostly used as an umbrella term, it comes in many different forms and sizes (e.g. serenity, exhilaration, relaxation).

7) Feeling happy is not a (or the) goal in life itself, it’s a “positive side effect” of certain behavior patterns and thinking styles.

8) Feeling happy is not shallow. At least, it´s not shallower than experiencing sadness, anger, or any other kind of emotion.

9) Feeling mostly happy requires effort, at least more work than feeling mostly unhappy (especially with regard to people displaying certain unfavorable genetic predispositions).

10) We seldom feel pure emotions. In most situations, we have several feelings at the same time. Quite often, they display a somewhat antagonistic structure (e.g., experiencing a bittersweet moment; or feeling proud of having been humble).

 

Picture via Gratisography

Fabulous Infographic: Why People become Unhappy

This is yet another fantastic piece covering Positive Psychology by information designer Anna Vital (the other ones I published on Mappalicious can be found here and here). Share and enjoy!

Unhappy_Vital

What Voltaire knew about Health and Happiness

So, eminent French philosopher Voltaire died about 230 years ago – but obviously, he had some intuitive insights into what psychological science would find out over the later part of the 20th century: namely, that happiness is not (only) and end in itself, but also a doorway to further human objectives, such as creativity, success, and a long and healthy life

Voltaire_Happiness

 

On TED: The Hidden Influence of Social Networks (on Happiness and much more)

In this TED talk, Nicholas Christakis (nowadays professor at Yale) shares his fascinating research on the influence of the people surround us (and the influence of those that surround those that surround us…and so on).

In short: the question of how happy you are, or how much you weigh, if you start or stop smoking, get married or have children, depends to a large degree on those people that you socialize with, and the people those folks interact with – at least statistically speaking.

It’s a whole new perspective on the adage “You are who you know.”

On TED: What is your Time really worth?

If you think that money cannot by happiness, you´re probably wrong. Science shows that money can indeed buy happiness if you spend it on the right things (which mostly aren’t things at all…)

You can learn all about it via these two TED talks. Elizabeth Dunn is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia. Michael Norton is the Harold M. Brierley Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. Together, both researchers have published the book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending.

Elisabeth Dunn´s talk will also be posted as No. 47 on my topical list of Positive Psychology-infused TED talks, Michael Norton´s is already there.

33 ½ Science-backed Methods to Boost Your Mood and Be Happier | Part I

Want to lead a happier life in 2016 (and beyond)?

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 can be found here, No. 23 – 33 ½ will be published shortly. The pieces of advice are ordered (roughly) by difficulty/level of effort etc. Share and enjoy!

1) Smile, Baby

Conventional wisdom holds that people tend to smile because they are happy. And while that is certainly true, it turns out that the other way around makes sense as well. We get happier because we smile. This is called facial feedback hypothesis and it has been shown to hold true over many studies. Accordingly, one way to better our mood is to make ourselves smile – even if we don´t feel like it in that particular moment. A popular method in order to achieve this is to hold a pencil between your teeth for a minute or so.

2) Eat (dark) Chocolate

Consuming moderate amounts of chocolate, especially the darker, less sugary type, has been shown to improve peoples´ mood. Whether this is just a consequence of the pleasurable eating experience, or caused by specific psycho-active ingredients in the cocoa, is still under debate. It works, anyway. But don´t overdo it. You know what I mean…

3) Please don’t stop the Music

Listening to happy and/or you favorite music is associated with elevated mood. It seems that there´s music that has a general happiness-inducing quality (e.g., Happy by Pharrell Williams) but otherwise, it´s more important that you really, really like what you´re listening to. By way of example, I´m really into heavy metal – a type of music that was once seen as fostering aggression and antisocial behavior. In the meantime, it became clear, that the emotional consequences of listening to music should be attributed to the fit between music and listener.

Nico - Family - Mappalicious4) Catch the Sun

Low levels of Vitamin D seem to be associated with depressive disorders, especially S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder a.k.a. winter blues) – and it´s comparably difficult to generate enough intake just from food. Our body is able generate this vitamin, but we need exposure to sunlight in order to pull off that stunt. That´s why we need to go out regularly, even when the weather is not all that great. You don’t need to take an actual sunbath – just being outside is enough (even when it´s cloudy), especially around noon-time. Sitting in the sunlight inside of the house does not help. What´s more, sunscreen seems to inhibit the process that generates the vitamin. For more advice, please see this article on Psychology Today.

5) Go green

Paying heed to No. 4 will additionally help you with this one: the so-called biophilia hypothesis states (among other things) that spending time in green environments (parks, forests etc.) helps to fight off stress and boosts our mood. Basically, the equation goes: the greener, the better, so you´ll profit more from a stroll in a nearby forest than a walk in the park. Long-term studies have found that moving from an inner-city area (lots of concrete, few greens spots) to a more rural area is greatly beneficial for several aspects of our psychological and physiological health.

6) Shake that Booty

Now, I´m perfectly aware of the fact that dancing may not be the most favorite subject among lots of my fellow men. Actually, psychologists have described a specific facet of our personality by the name of dance confidence – and that tends to be a bit lower with the not-so-fair sex. Nevertheless, regular dancing – even when you do it on your own in your living room – has tons of positive side effects, e.g., lifting your mood, boosting your immune system, and fighting stress by decreasing the concentration of cortisol in your blood.

7) Hit the Pillow

It is known that people need different amounts of sleep, and that the need for sleep changes over our lifetime (generally becoming less the older we get). And yes, there are people out there that claim to get along with just four hours of sleep per night. But the truth is: those folks are probably killing themselves very slowly. Most “normal” adults need at least seven to eight hours of good rest per night. Anything below that level for prolonged periods of time will very likely lead to performance problems (e.g., concentration disorders) – and yes: bad moods.

Nico - Workout - Mappalicious8) Move your Ass

Most people start exercise regimens at the onset of a new year to lose some pounds in order to look better in their Speedos once summer comes along. As less known fact: regular physical activity, especially endurance exercises like jogging, swimming etc. at medium intensity might just be one of the strongest anti-depressants out there.

9) Put down that Smartphone

Now, I certainly don´t belong to the type of people that engage in simple-minded smartphone (and social media) bashing – but: there are more and more studies that show detrimental effects of too much smartphone use. Especially among heavy users, there seem to be several adverse effects such as concentrations disorders – and also, a kind of separation anxiety when not having access to one´s favorite toy, e.g. due to low battery. Bottom line: the tool is fine, but don’t get attached to it.

10) Don’t be a Hater, stop the Gossip

Research shows the more meaningful conversations you have (as opposed to small talk and gossip), the happier you will be. Additionally, certain types of expressions on social media, such as swearing and verbalizing aggression, seem to be associated with bad moods and even adverse health conditions, e.g., a higher risk rate for cardio-vascular diseases. So, watch your language, young ladies and gentlemen.

11) Practice Gratitude

Cultivating gratitude seems to be the Swiss Army knife of Positive Psychology. It´s one of the most thoroughly researched positive interventions. Mostly, it comes in the form of keeping a gratitude (or: www for “what went well”) journal; please see this post on Greater Good Science Center´s website for more detail). The power of gratitude lies in its ability to counter the effect of what psychologist like to call the hedonic treadmill. We get used to almost all circumstances and things in our lives, whether they be desirable or undesirable. That´s why it´s helpful to actively focus our attention on all the good things in our lives once in a while. Also, it doesn’t cost thing.

Please note

Science shows that you do not have to practice all of these things (at once) to be happier. Rather, you should find out which of these activities best fit your personality and current way of life – so you´ll find it easy to sustain them. Please refer to: To each his own well-being boosting intervention: using preference to guide selection.