There´s a Lack of Positive Words in the German Language

A couple of times in the past, I´ve written about how immersing yourself in Positive Psychology is somewhat hard when you´re German – because it seems to be a slightly “Un-German” topic. Today, I´d like to explore this topic from a slightly different angle – that of language. Oscar Wilde supposedly said “Life is too short to learn German.” And he may have been right. It´s pretty complicated and therefore awfully hard to learn as a foreign tongue. Yet, it is the language of Goethe, Schiller, and Rammstein – that´s something to explore.

Speaking of the metal band Rammstein: there´s this thing about German pronunciation that makes just about everything sound like a declaration of war – even if you say something like “I love you”. There´s a funny video about this on Youtube. The guys overdo it a little, but then, this may just be what it feels like to a non-German ear:

But I digress. What I really want to talk about: I feel there´s a lack of positive words in the German language. Positive Psychology was (sort of…) invented in the U.S. – and most research papers and books are written in English. When I came to Penn, obviously I had to study the subject in English, too. But now that I´m back in Germany, I try to “sell” the topic over here, which has to be done in German of course. And that´s where the problems begin.

There´s this myth that the Inuit have an unusually high number of words to describe snow. We have “50 Shades of Grey”, they supposedly have 50 shades of snow. Actually, this is not true. But the idea behind the myth seems highly intriguing to me. In short it says: when something is valued very highly in a specific culture this tends to influence the use of language. Specifically, people pay more attention to the subject because of its importance, thereby learning to make more subtle distinctions, that ultimately are reflected in the amount of different words that can be used to talk about the subject.

To a certain degree, this idea mirrors one of Wittgenstein´s most famous dictums:

The limits of my language means the limits of my world.

When I do not have a word for something, that makes it hard to think about that subject, because it cannot be “grasped”. And it makes it even harder to speak about “that something” to other people. That idea is (probably) embodied in another Wittgenstein quote: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

Which brings us back to my problem of “selling” Positive Psychology in German:

Where there are no words, you can´t “spread the word”.

When I first tried to talk and write about Positive Psychology in German, oftentimes I felt a lack of the “right” words. For example, the German language has the same word (ergo: a lack of distinction…) for the subjects of “Happiness” and “Luck”. Both are signified by the noun “Glück”. So whenever I talk about happiness and positive emotions in the context Positive Psychology, I have to use an awful lot of extra words to get across the intended meaning.

But it´s not only a lack of distinction. Sometimes, I even feel there are no words. For instance, the brilliant Jonathan Haidt gave a lecture on the subject of “awe” in one of our MAPP classes. This moved me very much and I wanted to talk about my experience with friends back in Germany. The problem is: obviously, there is no adequate translation for “awe”. If you type “awe” into a translation machine, you’ll get the German equivalents of “veneration” or “reverence”, “rapture” or “entrancement”. All the suggestions entail a very religious or, at least, old-fashioned connotation. They are not part of a modern, non-religious German “language game”. Therefore, talking about “awe” in German in a scientific (or just everyday) context seems awfully hard.

This bears some interesting implications. Whenever I fill in a questionnaire on happiness or life satisfaction (e.g., here on Marty Seligman´s website), there´s an interesting phenomenon when I look at the results. These will be displayed in the context of different normed groups. E.g., your scores will be compared to other people of your age, your educational background, but also your ZIP code (when provided). Now here´s the thing: Comparing my results to other people from my ZIP code (ergo: other Germans) will always put me in a higher percentile. This means: based on the same raw scores, the algorithm will display that I´m quite happy when comparing myself to other men in general, or other Ph.Ds, but that I´m extremely(!) happy when comparing myself to other Germans.

Now, there´s a couple of different explanations for this phenomenon. The easiest one would be: on average, the German respondents in that data base are not all that happy – and that´s why I score (relatively) higher vis-à-vis that group. But it may also be a phenomenon of language. What if Germans were just as happy on average as, let´s say, U.S. citizens, but were reluctant to use positive self-descriptions in an extreme specification – just because it´s not part of our “happiness language game”? Maybe, via studying Positive Psychology in English in the U.S., I became a little less German, thereby being able to mitigate the dissonance of describing my life in a very positive light?

I guess Positive Psychology has to integrate cultural perspectives more and more in order to be equally “useful” for all the people on this planet. Recently, the Scientific American published a piece by the name of “Not Everyone Wants to Be Happy” citing different studies that were able to show that the concept and meaning of happiness can vary significantly between different cultures (notably, between more Western and more Eastern cultures) – but has also evolved over time. Very though-provoking.

Which brings me to the final question for today:

Could Germany be a better place if somebody invented new positive words?

“The German” per se (as a stereotype”) is depicted as a sober-minded person. We´re perceived as being diligent, orderly, industrious, and a lot of other helpful attributes. But we´re also depicted as being rather anxious, risk-averse, and just not that open-minded (think “German Angst”). This is not just an academic discussion. The German economy has been doing comparably well over the last couple of years – but how long will this last? We´re really not that good at building and financially supporting start-ups. Forbes regularly updates a large list of all those startups that are valued at more than one billion $ in terms of private equity funding. Only one of those is based in Germany.

What if all this were (at least to some extent) a consequence of a lack of the right positive words? Would we become more optimistic, less risk-averse, and more open-minded if we were able to enhance our language, if we were able to broaden the (far) positive side of our verbal aptitude? I think it´d be worth a try. In 1999, a German publisher of dictionaries (together with ice-tea brand Lipton) hosted a contest for the invention of a new word. We have a German word for the state of being “full” (= not hungry any more) – but there´s no positively framed expression for being “not thirsty any more”. As far as I know, the winning word has not made it into our regular language use, but I guess it was worth the effort.

So why shouldn’t we – for starters – find a more awesome translation for “awe”? I´m eager to hear your suggestions…

Are you a H.E.R.O.? Positive Organizational Capital (PsyCap) explained

Positive Psychological CapitalSince it´s “formulation” at the onset of the new millennium, researchers have tried to apply Positive Psychology to organizational settings. E.g., Adam Grant promotes pro-social behavior in business settings, Amy Wrzesniewski looks at how employees can foster (perceived) meaning via job-crafting, and Jane Dutton investigates the impact of high-quality connections.

Another interesting framework is offered by Fred Luthans and his colleagues. They have developed the idea of Positive Psychological Capital (PsyCap) which is seen as a valuable extension to the concepts of economic, human, and social capital (see table above; taken from Luthans et al., 2004). PsyCap is theorized as a higher-order construct that is “composed” of four underlying constructs, precisely Self-Efficacy (also called Confidence), Hope, Optimism, and Resiliency. It´s called higher-order because PsyCap is not just “made of” the underlying constructs, but taken together, they form something new, an entity that is more than the sum of its parts. Please see diagram at the bottom, based on Luthans & Youssef (2004). This shows the whole framework, precisely: the H.E.R.O. formation by which the constructs is sometimes known to the general public. What are the building blocks all about – as defined in Positive Psychology?

  • Hope is as a positive state where our feelings of agency (goal oriented determination) and pathways (proactively planning to achieve those goals) interact.
  • Self-efficacy is depicted as confidence in our ability to achieve a specific goal in a specific situation.
  • Optimism is theorized as a realistically-positive view of what can or cannot do.
  • Resilience is defined as successfully coping with adversity or stress. In organizational settings, it is characterized as the ability to “bounce back” from high workload, conflict, failure, and ongoing organizational change.

Why were these four concepts chosen? In the words of Luthans et al. (2004):

The four psychological capacities of confidence, hope, optimism, and resilience are measurable, open to development, and can be managed for more effective work performance.

Why is this important? Because it means that – unlike trait-like concepts such as general intelligence – PsyCap can be developed by deliberate practice. Just the other three forms of capital, it can be built and enhanced – in a rather short amount of time, by the way (see this paper for more info). As such, it can be a very valuable tool in organizational and personnel development.

Why should you care (especially if you are a CEO or HR Director)?

Well, you should care if you are interested in having a healthy, engaged, and high-performing workforce. A meta-analysis (a type of study that aggregates the results of prior studies) based on 51 empirical investigations found a wide array of positive consequences for workers displaying high (vs. low) PsyCap. From the study abstract:

The results indicated the expected significant positive relationships between PsyCap and […] job satisfaction, organizational commitment, psychological well-being, desirable employee behaviors (citizenship), and […] measures of performance (self, supervisor evaluations, and objective). There was also a significant negative relationship between PsyCap and undesirable employee attitudes (cynicism, turnover intentions, job stress, and anxiety) and undesirable employee behaviors (deviance).

Are you curious now?

PsyCap Structure

What Positive Psychology can learn from the Humanities

Inspired by James Pawelski


In 1998, Martin Seligman was elected president of the American Psychological Association (APA). Looking back on a fruitful career in research and teaching mostly on clinical psychology, especially the causes and treatment of depression, he had an epiphany that led to the formulation of a societal need for a positive psychology, a branch of psychology that would investigate a wide array of positive phenomena in human life, such as love, character strengths, high achievement, and in general: well-being and human flourishing. He proposed these issues should be investigated exerting the same scientific rigor that psychology has applied pertaining to negative phenomena (depression, anxiety, aggression etc.) for the first 100 years of its existence as an academic discipline. Equally, the rigorous scientific approach was meant to distinguish positive psychology from the extant self-help literature that partly expounds similar topics of interest (Seligman & Csíkszentmihályi, 2000; Seligman, 2002).

The Humanities

Academic disciplines that employ empirical approaches based on “hard” methods from the natural sciences (controlled experiments etc.) are oftentimes contrasted with “softer” approaches of (academic) inquiry such as the humanities (de Solla Price, 1986). Webster´s Third New International Dictionary (1971) defines humanities as “the branch of learning regarded as having primarily a cultural character and usually including languages, literature, history, mathematics, and philosophy”; and the Random House College Dictionary (1984) defines it as “a. the study of classical Latin and Greek language and literature. b. literature, philosophy, art, etc. as distinguished from the sciences.”

In spite of the aforementioned (conjectured) antagonism, the purpose of this essay is to shed light on the manifold interconnections between the humanities and positive psychology as a (comparatively) “hard” science.  Specifically, the goal is to

  1. to show how insights from the humanities have informed (and still continue to inform) theories about the antecedents and characteristics of (psychological) well-being and what makes for a “good life”;
  2. how the humanities help to refine research on human flourishing in its different facets;
  3. how the humanities inform the practice of human flourishing and help to design interventions that are based on the insights of positive psychology.

1) How the Humanities inform Theories of Human Flourishing

For many centuries now, mankind has taken an interest in fostering its own psychological well-being and helping its fellow human being to lead a “good life”. Long before (positive) psychology, there has been an abundance of religious and spiritual leaders (such as the Buddha and Jesus Christ), philosophers (such as Aristotle and Marcus Aurelius), and writers/poets (such as Henry David Thoreau and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) that have disseminated their concepts of ethics and morals, character and virtues, and what leads to joy and meaning in life (McMahon, 2012). For the sake of brevity, in this section I will only describe how writers and poets have sown the seeds for extant theories in positive psychology.

Telling stories is almost never done for sheer fun of it, or for objectively reporting on some occurrence. Telling stories, be it in traditional oral style, in print, or some audio-visual presentation mode, almost always has some instructive or prescriptive quality to it. Whoever creates or narrates the story typically wants to instill a change in the recipient, wants him to know or be something else when the story is over (Niles, 1999). This educational facet of storytelling can be traced through the literary history, from Homer´s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” and Aesop´s fables, to early religious accounts such as the “Upanishads” and the Bible, to medieval works such as Dante´s “Divine Comedy”, Shakespeare´s works of drama (e.g., “Hamlet”), to the early (e.g. Goethe´s “Wilhelm Meister´s Apprenticeship”) and later (e.g. Dickens´s “Great Expectations”) “Bildungsroman” – all the way up to 20th century masterpieces such as de Saint-Exupéry “Little Prince” and New Age classics along the lines of Bach´s “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” or Coelho´s “Alchemist”. Oftentimes, this educational element is conveyed by carefully depicting the protagonists´ lifestyles – in order to then confront the recipient with the outcomes of these modes of existence.

By way of example, both Leo Tolstoy´s “The Death of Ivan Ilych” (1886/2010) and Willa Cather´s “Neighbour Rosicky” (1932/2010) try to educate the reader (among other things) on the value of and human need for close relationships. While Cather portrays the distinctly positive outcomes of understanding that “no man is an island”, Tolstoy´s narrative describes Ivan Ilyich as a human being that literally dies of social and emotional isolation. So, while both stories do not contain any “how-to advice” such as modern self-help books, it remains unequivocal that they try to convey some underlying and implicit understanding of human well-being, that they represent a prescription for “a life well-lived”. As such, they can be likened to a kind of ideographic research, case-studies, a deep-dive into the personal experience of human beings as individuals (Jorgensen & Nafstad, 2004). Positive psychologists can draw on these sources to generate hypotheses about the general nature of human well-being (nomothetic research). They can take those extant descriptions and prescriptions, abstract and turn them into verifiable scientific hypotheses, and conduct large-scale and longitudinal empirical research to see if they turn out to be valid propositions.

By way of example, the sonnet „An sich“ by German 17th century poet Paul Fleming endorses a multitude of concepts and recommendations that are accepted as being beneficial to psychological well-being in positive psychology and (most self-help literature as well):

Sei dennoch unverzagt! Gib dennoch unverloren! Weich keinem Glücke nicht, steh höher als der Neid, vergnüge dich an dir und acht es für kein Leid, hat sich gleich wider dich Glück, Ort und Zeit verschworen.

Was dich betrübt und labt, halt alles für erkoren; nimm dein Verhängnis an. Laß alles unbereut. Tu, was getan muß sein, und eh man dir’s gebeut. Was du noch hoffen kannst, das wird noch stets geboren.

Was klagt, was lobt man noch? Sein Unglück und sein Glücke ist ihm ein jeder selbst. Schau alle Sachen an: dies alles ist in dir. Laß deinen eitlen Wahn, und eh du fürder gehst, so geh in dich zurücke. Wer sein selbst Meister ist und sich beherrschen kann, dem ist die weite Welt und alles untertan.

Among other things, Fleming advises his recipients to:

  • retain an optimistic mindset in the face or hardships (Seligman & Schulman, 1986) and cultivate hopefulness (Snyder, 2002);
  • exert self-control (Tangney, Baumeister, & Boone, 2004) and tackle setbacks with a “gritty” attitude (Duckworth & Seligman, 2005);
  • practice mindfulness (Brown & Ryan, 2003) and “look inside” for sources of joy (Bryant, Smart, & King, 2005);
  • express gratitude (Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2006) and avoid feelings of envy and regret (Fredrickson, 2004).

All the aforementioned concepts can by now be considered “mainstream positive psychology”, as they are to a varying degree and scope building blocks of Seligman´s PERMA framework of human flourishing (2012). And while I am in some doubt whether the founding fathers of positive psychology have really been inspired by a German poet from the a 17th century, I am positively sure would they very much agree with what the latter had to say.

2) How the Humanities inform Research on Human Flourishing

As described in the introductory section, positive psychologists stress the importance of empirical research to back the claims made by this still rather new branch of psychology. While it might not be as apparent and straightforward as the insights from the first section of this paper, the humanities can also help to increase the quality of research in positive psychology. For instance, positive psychologists could draw on methods from philosophy to either improve existing methods within the field, or introduce largely new methods.

By way of example, methods from hilosophy can help positive psychology researchers to create better constructs and thus, questionnaires by engaging in conceptual clarification of central notions and frameworks in the field. Pawelski (2012) demonstrates how one of the core concepts in positive psychology, namely, the notion of “the positive” may still be severely underspecified. When the discipline was founded at the onset of the third millennium, it was not really clear what the term “positive” in positive psychology is actually referring to. 15 years later, science has made at least some progress pertaining to that question. Based on philosophical inquiry, Pawelski (2012) points out that the “positive” in positive psychology cannot just be the absence of something negative. Well-being cannot be explained by looking at what is not there (e.g., unhappiness, mental illness) – it has to look for something that is there in its own right.

In her essay, Tiberius (2012) tries to show how unique methods from philosophy can be introduced to the field of positive psychology to gain deeper insights into some topic of inquiry. For example, she demonstrates how the specific use of “intuition pumps” (short educational thought experiments) can shed valuable insight into functioning of human decision-making and moral reasoning. Schneider (2001) ultimately reminds positive psychologists not to be too sure of themselves when talking about the results of their research or judging the results of others. She insists that our perceptions and thus, knowledge, are necessarily characterized by a considerable degree of fuzziness – with all the benefits and disadvantages this entails. To that effect, philosophy can help positive psychology to stay humble – but also hungry for more knowledge.

3) How the Humanities inform the Practice of Human Flourishing

Man has been described – among many other analogies – as the “cultural animal” (Baumeister, 2005). Most people expose themselves to parts of our “cultural achievements” (music, books/writing, art, theater/films, spiritual rites etc.) on a daily basis. By way of example, listening to music is a pervasive element of most people´s lives.In a study using experiencing sampling, a method where subjects are to record what they do in their lives at certain intervals, it was found that music was present in 37% percent of the samples. Additionally, the researchers found that this exposure to music influenced the emotional state of the listeners in 67% of these events, and that this influence was oftentimes induced by the listeners on purpose, e.g., as a means to lift their mood (Juslin, Liljeström, Västfjäll, Barradas, & Silva, 2008). While other cultural practices are used for the same reasons (and several other “positive motives”) as well*, in light of this paper´s limited scope, I will concentrate on the question of how (and via which mechanisms) music may contribute to our psychological well-being.

Listening to music can lift our mood, has been shown to alleviate psychological stress as well as physical pain, and to contribute to our overall well-being (Västfjäll, Juslin, & Hartig, 2012). This may be a consequence of the uplifting effect of listening to music, but could also be a byproduct of its social aspect, since it is often performed and listened to in the presence of other human beings (MacDonald, Kreutz, & Mitchell, 2012). Additionally, making and listening to music is able to induce flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996). For all these reasons, it is also used in a wide array of psychotherapeutic settings (Västfjäll, Juslin, & Hartig, 2012).

What is more, listening to music often leads us to moving our bodies/dancing, at least pre-consciously. In an article on the benefits of pursuing different forms of dancing as a hobby, Quiroga Murcia, Kreutz, Clift, and Bongard (2010) were able to demonstrate that dancing can:

  • strengthen our immune system, thereby helping us to stay physically healthy;
  • fight stress by decreasing the concentration of cortisol in our blood;
  • improve our physical fitness, e.g., by fostering coordination, flexibility, and stamina;
  • help us coping with pain;
  • improve our self-esteem and build confidence.

In another study by Campion and Levita (2014), just five minutes of light dancing (alone) improved lateral thinking abilities of managers at work, and decreased their symptoms of fatigue.

In this sense, listening to music (and additionally, dancing) could very well be described as a positive intervention in its own right. It´s cheap, it´s available almost all over the planet, and – there are virtually no side effects. Of course, it´s important to keep in mind that different people display different tastes in music. Accordingly, Västfjäll, Juslin, and Hartig (2012) explain that the (beneficial) effect of music has to be understood as an interaction effect between the musical stimulus and its recipient: “Thus, there are no “pure” effects of music that will invariably occur regardless of the specific listener or situation. The response will depend on factors such as the listener´s music preferences and previous experiences, as well as on the specific circumstances of the context” (p. 408). Yet, assuming that most people are able and willing to choose what music they listen to at most times in their lives, it becomes clear that it is a potent ingredient of a life well-lived.

To close this section, I´d like to describe how I intend to use the extant knowledge on the connection of the humanities and well-being in my future professional life. I have been working as a management and life coach since 2008. Early on, I developed the habit of prescribing some homework to my clients in-between sessions. Once in a while, I would prescribe watching a film for inspiration, or seeding a certain idea (e.g., “The Kid” starring Bruce Willis, for the notion that it is possible to change our past; or rather, its emotional valence) by re-framing and re-evaluating certain experiences. To that effect, I also knew of the existence of “cinematherapy”, a rather recent branch of psychotherapy that utilizes the exposure to movies as a means to support the treatment of psychological disorders such as depression (Sharp, Smith, & Cole, 2002). All the more, I´ve been delighted to learn that positive psychology has also taken to this mode of delivery, namely in the form of Niemiec and Wedding´s (2008) tome “Positive psychology at the movies: Using films to build virtues and character strengths”. Over the upcoming months, I will read the book and watch as many films therein as possible to experience their impact – so as to build up my reservoir of movies to prescribe to my coaching clients. I am sure this will become a valuable addition to my “coaching toolbox”.

Conclusion

The objective of this essay was to demonstrate how insights from the humanities have influenced theories on the antecedents and characteristics of human flourishing, how the humanities help to refine research in this area, and how the humanities inform the practice of positive psychology and help to design beneficial positive interventions. I have pursued this objective by explaining how many of the core ideas in positive psychology can be traced back through our (literary) history, by showing how philosophy can improve research methods in that field as well as the “talk” about that research, and by illustrating how music can be used as an “active ingredient” in positive interventions.

Metaphorically speaking, positive psychology is still a very young tree, but it is a sapling with strong and far-reaching roots. These roots can be traced back in time looking into the realms of music, art, religion, philosophy, as well as oral, written, and audio-visual storytelling. In order to continue growing and ultimately becoming a strong and mighty tree, it´s of uttermost importance to get to know, acknowledge, and to treasure these roots. Mindfully exposing ourselves to the different manifestations of the humanities is such an approach to honor the roots of positive psychology.

References

Baumeister, R. F. (2005). The cultural animal: Human nature, meaning, and social life. New York: Oxford University Press.

Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822-848.

Bryant, F. B., Smart, C. M., & King, S. P. (2005). Using the past to enhance the present: Boosting happiness through positive reminiscence. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6(3), 227-260.

Campion, M., & Levita, L. (2014). Enhancing positive affect and divergent thinking abilities: Play some music and dance. Journal of Positive Psychology, 9(2), 137-145.

Cather, W. (2010). “Neighbor Rosicky.” In Obscure destinies (pp. 1-38). Oxford, UK: Oxford City Press. (Original work published in 1932).

Costello R. B. (1984): Random House Webster’s College Dictionary. New York: Random House.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihály. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: Harper Collins.

de Botton, A., & Armstrong, J. (2013). Art as Therapy. London: Phaidon Press.

de Solla Price, D. J. (1986). Little science, big science… and beyond. New York: Columbia University Press.

Duckworth, A. L., & Seligman, M. E. (2005). Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic performance of adolescents. Psychological Science, 16(12), 939-944.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). Gratitude, like other positive emotions, broadens and builds. In R. A. Emmons & M. E. McCullough (Eds.), The psychology of gratitude (pp. 145–166). New York: Oxford University Press.

Gove, P. B. (1971). Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language: Unabridged. Springfield: G. and C. Merriam Company.

MacDonald, R., Kreutz, G., Mitchell, L. (2012). What is music, health, and wellbeing and why is it important? In R. MacDonald, G. Kreutz, & L. Mitchell (Eds.), Music, health and wellbeing (pp. 3-11). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McMahon, D. M. (2012). The pursuit of happiness in history. In I. Boniwell & S. Davis (Eds.), Oxford handbook of happiness (pp. 80-93). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Niemiec, R. M., & Wedding, D. (2008). Positive psychology at the movies: Using films to build virtues and character strengths. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.

Niles, J. D. (1999). Homo narrans. The poetics and anthropology of oral literature. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Pargament, K. I. (2002). The bitter and the sweet: An evaluation of the costs and benefits of religiousness. Psychological Inquiry, 13(3), 168-181.

Pawelski, J. O. (2012): Happiness and its Opposites. In I. Boniwell & S. Davis (Eds.), Oxford handbook of happiness (pp. 326-336). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pawelski, J. O., & Moores, D. J. (2012). The Eudaimonic Turn: Well-being in Literary Studies. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

Quiroga Murcia, C., Kreutz, G., Clift, S., & Bongard, S. (2010). Shall we dance? An exploration of the perceived benefits of dancing on well-being. Arts & Health, 2(2), 149-163.

Schneider, S. L. (2001). In search of realistic optimism: Meaning, knowledge, and warm fuzziness. American Psychologist, 56(3), 250-263.

Seligman, M. E. (2002). Authentic happiness. New York: Free Press.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2012). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press.

Seligman, M. E., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14.

Seligman, M. E., & Schulman, P. (1986). Explanatory style as a predictor of productivity and quitting among life insurance sales agents. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50(4), 832-838.

Sharp, C., Smith, J. V., & Cole, A. (2002). Cinematherapy: Metaphorically promoting therapeutic change. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 15(3), 269-276.

Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). How to increase and sustain positive emotion: The effects of expressing gratitude and visualizing best possible selves. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(2), 73-82.

Snyder, C. R. (2002). Hope theory: Rainbows in the mind. Psychological Inquiry, 13(4), 249-275.

Tangney, J. P., Baumeister, R. F., & Boone, A. L. (2004). High self‐control predicts good adjustment, less pathology, better grades, and interpersonal success. Journal of Personality, 72(2), 271-324.

Tiberius, V. (2012). Philosophical Methods in Happiness Research. In I. Boniwell & S. Davis (Eds.), Oxford handbook of happiness (pp. 315-325). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Tolstoy, L. (2010). The death of Ivan Ilych. New York: SoHo Books. (Original work published in 1886).

Västfjäll, D., Juslin, P. N, Hartig, T. (2012). Music, subjective wellbeing, and health: The role of everyday emotions. In R. MacDonald, G. Kreutz, & L. Mitchell (Eds.), Music, health and wellbeing (pp. 405–423). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

* Please refer to Pargament (2002) for an overview of the connection of religious practices and well-being, to de Botton and Armstrong (2013) for a framework of how people use art to cultivate flourishing, to Niemiec and Wedding (2008) on the use of story-telling (especially movies) for building character strengths, and Pawelski and Moores (2012) for a treatise on the “eudaimonic turn” in literary studies.

Appendix

To himself

Be yet still undeterred! Accept yet still no loss! Bend to no bad luck’s blow, stand higher than ill will. Take joy, you, in yourself and think it is no woe. If all against you – luck, place and time – have sworn.

That which afflicts or cheers, hold all as predesigned. Take what your fate declares. Let there be no regret. Do what must now be done, ere one dispatches you. What you can hope for still, that will yet still be born.

Why wails, why lauds one still? One’s hardships and one’s luck, Is each one for himself. Examine every thing; This all is within you. Discard your fond illusion. And, ere you further step, go back into yourself. Who his own master is and keeps himself in check. He o’er the outspread world and all things there does reign.

(Paul Fleming)

Picture Source

Mappsterview No. 4: Dan Bowling on Turning the Tide at Coca-Cola and Lawyer (Un-)Happiness

I was in the ninth cohort of the Master of Applied Positive Program at Penn. Consequently, there are tons of brilliant MAPP Alumni out there that have very fascinating stories to tell: about their experience with the program, about Positive Psychology in general – and about themselves of course. I really want to hear those stories. That´s why I started to do Mappsterviews* with my predecessors.

Today, you are going to meet Dan Bowling, very successful lawyer turned very successful manager turned very successful Law and Positive Psychology teacher and researcher. Actually, I´m supposed to be writing MAPP finals instead of blogging right in this moment. Such is life. Our final papers are a lot about going through our former papers and teaching notes, about integrating and “hunting the good stuff”. Yesterday, I wrote a passage about my “heureka moments” in MAPP. And since I like to link my insights to the people that are “responsible” for those insights, here´s what I wrote about Dan Bowling:

If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing it with style.

Please introduce yourself briefly:

Dan BowlingMy name is Dan Bowling. I am Senior Lecturing Fellow at Duke Law School, where I teach courses on labor law, employment law, and positive psychology and the practice of law. These classes seem to be popular among the students, maybe because I bring pizza and wine for the class every now and then. I also run a small consultancy, Positive Workplace Solutions LLC, which provides executive coaching and legal consulting for C-Level executives and professionals (I am a licensed attorney). I work with Martin Seligman’s team at UPenn’s Positive Psychology Center doing empirical research on strengths and lawyers, and have helped teach in MAPP for the past 5 years. I speak regularly at legal and/or positive psychology conferences, and write a featured blog for Talent Management Magazine called Psychology at Work. I tweet silly and irrelevant stuff @BowlingDan if you would like to follow me.

What got you interested in Positive Psychology in the first place?

I have always been fascinated by different personality traits. I started my career after graduating from Duke Law in 1980 as a labor and employment litigator and it struck me how important a role personality played in why one employee sues you and another doesn’t, even if their job circumstances are the same. I made partner in a large Atlanta law firm in 1986 but was shortly thereafter recruited by Coca-Cola to help form the new law department of its bottling operations, which it spun off as Coca-Cola Enterprises in the largest IPO in history. My interests in the psychological components of work continued during my career with Coca-Cola Enterprises, where I held a variety of jobs including President of a nine-state, 2 billion dollar operating region, as I developed a firm belief in the link between optimism and positive emotions in employee and corporate performance.

I had the opportunity to put my theories into practice in the latter stages of my career, when I was named head of human resources for the entire company. Frankly, the organization was down. We were under legal assault by small groups of hostile employees. Rather than aggressively defending the claims – which I found spurious – our programs and energies were focused on an agonized self-examination of what we did to prompt such claims. The halls were full of consultants and lawyers and days were consumed by meetings, all focused on what was “wrong” with us and how we could treat it. Not surprisingly, our “disease” was metastasizing, and corporate maladies previously unknown (or non-existent) were being discovered and stern remedies subscribed. Managers and employees forgot about selling Coke and spent their time instead in a variety of “workshops,” the corporate equivalent of Mao’s re-education camps.

Our new HR team decided to flip the paradigm, and look at what was right about the company – a focus on the life above zero, as Marty Seligman says. It didn’t take long to learn that the vast majority of the employee grievances were brought by a handful of perpetually complaining employees, often sponsored by outside interest groups, and were generally unfounded. We also found that most of our employees were quite happy with us as an employer. We starting asking a very basic question of ourselves: “Why is it 95% of our HR programs and initiatives are focused on the 5% of employees who hate us? Why spend our precious resources and energies on the perpetually dissatisfied few? Why not focus on efforts on those who want to build a better company and believe we can?” Eventually, we resolved our issues quite successfully, the grumblers moved on, and we spent the rest of our time in HR doing things to hire and engage people who were a positive contribution to our company. When I turned 50, it was time to move on, so I joined the Duke Law faculty teaching labor and employment law, while continuing my research into optimism and positive personality traits by receiving a masters in applied positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Your are a lawyer, you teach law, and via MAPP (at the lastest…) you know that lawyers are among the unhappiest professions. Why do you think that is the case?

That question is at the core of my current research and writing interests. First, I must challenge the premise – I think the data is not conclusive that lawyers are among the unhappiest professions, although the majority of the literature seems to suggest so. Regardless, law school and law practice seem to exacerbate depressive tendencies in persons with those tendencies, which isn’t surprising given the number of hours lawyers work in pressurized environments on things they are not intrinsically motivated to do. But as to whether lawyers as a population are significantly unhappier than other large groups of highly educated professionals, more research is needed.

Do you have plans to do anything about that?

To effect real change in the profession, it is of critical importance to establish a link between well-being and legal professionalism for the happiness of lawyers to be taken seriously, and my goal is to help provide that framework for the legal profession.

According to what you´ve learned about Positive Psychology, if I were the CEO of a company: what are three things that I should start doing right away?

1) Identify and develop leaders who are optimistic and enthusiastic about the success of others; 2) incorporate strengths-based employee assessment and development programs; and 3) use better psychometrics to support the hiring and talent acquisition process.

 

Thank you, Dan, for this Mappsterview! If you are a MAPP alumnus and would like to have your story featured here – please go ahead and shoot me an e-mail!

My Year in MAPP: A 5-Step Course in the fine Art of Being Un-German

In general, I hate this sentence – but: time flies.

Right now, I´m in Philly, precisely: in room 340 of Wharton´s Huntsman Hall, for attending the final onsite period of the 2013/14 MAPP program at University of Pennsylvania. Seems like yesterday that I wrote that blog post on being admitted to my deepdive into Positive Psychology at UPenn. Maybe it´s still a little bit early for reminiscence, since there´s still a lot of work ahead (final papers, capstone projects) – but lately, I´ve been musing on a truly intriguing question:

Is MAPP a Course in being Un-German?

Flag - German SmileyThat question only makes sense when you´re German, of course – which I happen to be. My MAPP classmates surely know I´ve been using this definition a lot over the year: un-German. What do I want to say here?

Despite that disreputable first half of the twentieth century, I kind of like being German. According to most socio-economic (and also ecologic) indicators, it´s a very good place to live. Hey, according to BBC we might even the most popular country in the world. Go figure!*

But what do other countries like or maybe even admire about Germans? Let´s look at some of the (pretty thoroughly verified…) stereotypes:** People definitely love our cars (and the fact that there´s no speed-limit on most areas of the Autobahn), they indulge in our Bier, Schnaps, and Riesling-Wein (especially around the time of the Oktoberfest – which I´ve never visited by the way…), our ten trillion varieties of Wurst and the Schnitzels (although the original Wiener Schnitzel is from Austria, of course). So generally speaking, people like our products. They love things “Made in Germany”.

Because that´s what we´re good at. Germany has an “engineering culture”. We´re good at planning things and following through with it, that´s our Prussian heritage. We´re builders and craftsmen, planners and executors, not so much “poets and thinkers” any more. We´re industrious, punctual, orderly, dependable, and basically good at “being good at things”.

Emilia Lahti & Nico RoseRather not on top of the list is “the German” as a person(ality). Most other countrymen consider us to be blunt to the point of outright rudeness – if we´re talking at all, that is. We´re not the epitome of warm-heartedness, either (that may be a result of our language). And while Germany typically is considered to be the “export world champion”, our humor definitely is not one of our hit products.

Additionally, we´re just not a very optimistic people. I mean, compared to most other countries, we´re really really rich and really really healthy and long-living. We´re well-off – period. Still, collectively we´ve managed to have a special kind of fear being named after us: “German Angst” (roughly: being overly cautious and pessimistic). Oh, and we´re also good at feeling Weltschmerz – which can be described as the state of “being pissed off with existence in general and also in particular”.

So on the face of it, trying to be a good German and studying Positive Psychology (here´s a short definition) does not add up. At the end of the day, Positive Psychology is just too … ahem … positive. Rather, a German in a Positive Psychology course seems like a prototypal case of “opposites attract”.

Yet, in spite of it all, I did it. And here´s what I´ve learned…

Lesson 1: Greeting Somebody

In Germany, most people opt for a solid handshake when greeting somebody they do not know that well. Among younger people and goods friends, you’ll also see the occasional hug or that “kiss-kiss embrasser thing” we copied from our French neighbors.

In MAPP, people hug each other at all times. Basically, our bodies are completely entangled while being on campus. Was a little strange at first – but then I´ve found this piece of research that shows how important hugs are for our health.

LOVE_Penn_PhiladelphiaLesson 2: Engaging in Small-Talk

In Germany, when meeting somebody again after several weeks, of course you´ll engage in some microscopic dose of small-talk. E.g., when somebody asks you “How was you flight?”, you´re supposed to reply something like this: “Oh, it was the worst thing ever. There was a delay of at least five minutes. And they didn’t have Becks beer on board. I did not get the window seat I wanted and the food servings were tiny. The guy next to me smelled like a dead rodent and I had already seen all of the HIMYM episodes they showed on board.” The other person will then reply: “Oh, I know exactly what you´re saying. It´s been even worse for me…………..”

In MAPP, when people ask how your flight was, you´re supposed to say “Awesome!” That´s it. And the other person will respond: “That´s awesome. Let me give you a hug…”

Was a little strange at first – but then I´ve found this piece of research that shows how mostly looking on the bright side of life is really beneficial for your psychological and physiological well-being.

Lesson 3: Taking a Break

MAPP Energy BreakIn Germany, when you take a break (which we don´t do that often), you basically stop doings things. Maybe, you have a piece of Streusel-Kuchen, maybe you check your mobile phone for messages. And if you meet a German who is one of those rare positive outliers on extraversion, you might be able to get him engaged in a little small-talk – but don´t count on that.

In MAPP, when you take a break, you´re not allowed to sit down and just do nothing. Because breaks are supposed to be “energy breaks”. So basically, somebody will walk up front, put on some music that is not Rammstein, and then coerce all the other people in the room into frenetic singing and shouting, and moving their bodies in distinctly inappropriate ways. Afterwards, you return to your seat. But before that, you hug.

Was a little strange at first – but then I´ve found this piece of research that shows how taking short breaks from work for dancing is really good for your health and gets so creative juices flowing

Lesson 4: Answering “complicated” Questions

In Germany, when somebody asks you a (“complicated”) question, you answer. That´s it. If you don´t want to do something or disagree, you just say “Nein!” or “That´s not a good idea.” Works out fine.

In MAPP, when somebody asks you a (“complicated”) question, you´re supposed to say something like this: “Oh, that is a truly brilliant question (break into huge smile while speaking…). I really appreciate it. It´s just so thoughtful and deep. I could have never come up with that in a million years. By the way, I just love your hair today. So, about your question…”

When you want to say “No” to somebody, or “I think that´s a bad idea” things get a little more complicated. Because: You can´t. It´s sort of “not allowed”. So instead, you might want to start with something along the lines of the above-mentioned phrases. Now, proceed by putting on a (just slightly) less smiling face and say, e.g.: “Let me give you a little bit of context on that.”*** Then, in excruciating length and detail, you recount each and every item of information that may or may not be relevant to the current affair, starting roughly at Lincoln´s “Better Angels of our Nature” address. And basically, you keep on going until the other person has forgotten what she wanted in the first place. Afterwards, you hug.

Was a little strange at first – but then I´ve found this piece of research that shows how important it is to really be empathetic towards other people, and to engage in (what Positive Psychologists call) active-constructive responding.

MAPP White DogLesson 5: Finishing something

In Germany, when you´ve finished something, you start doing something else immediately (except for when we want to practice the art of Gemütlichkeit – but hey: drinking beer is also doing something…). That´s what we´re here for. We do stuff. We finish it. We do something else. I mean, one of the largest chains of building centers in Germany advertises the slogan “Es gibt immer was zu tun…” (“There´s always something to do…”).

In MAPP, when you´ve finished something, you cannot do something else immediately. Nohoo! Somebody will walk up to you and ask you to savor what you´ve just did. So you might have been to the rest room, reenter the classroom – and somebody will approach you and ask: “Nico, did you take enough time to savor that experience?” Not.

But savoring really is a big issue in MAPP. Now, that is really really un-German. I´ve understood that it´s close to the concept of being “gemütlich”, just (mostly…) without beer. Basically, it´s the opposite of feeling Weltschmerz. It´s about back-pedaling, admiring your recent accomplishments, and giving yourself (and the world in general…) a mental pat on the back – and a hug.

Was a little strange at first – but then I´ve found this piece of research that shows how taking your time to savor life and the beautiful things (and maybe even some of the not so beautiful things…) it entails is really important for our well-being and finding meaning in life.

So, that´s what I´ve learned. Here´s the management summary:

Wherever you are, it is your friends who make your world.

(William James)

Alternatively, in the words of Henry David Thoreau:

Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.

MAPP 9 & Co.: Thanks a million! Love you guys. Lots of hugs…

Nico

MAPP_White_dog

 

* But to be honest: that survey is from 2013, a year without any major soccer tournaments. That doesn´t really count…

**You will find 151 of those in Liv Hambrett´s hilarious and at the same time truly insightful piece What I Know About Germans.

*** Thank you for that one, James!

Happy Thoughts: Here are the Things proven to make you Happier

I´m a little bit lazy with writing these days – or rather, I´m busy busy busy with other pleasurable issues. So instead of writing something myself, I´d like to point your attention to a nice overview article on Positive Psychology on Time Magazine. It´s contains lots of links for further exploration…

Enjoy!

Happy_Thoughts