Positive Psychology News Digest | No. 04/2017

mappalicious_news_digest_2017My favorite news and blog articles covering Positive Psychology and adjacent topics from (roughly) the last seven days.

Scientific American: Power of a Meaningful Life by Gareth Cook

New York Magazine: What Makes Your Life Meaningful? by Melissa Dahl & Allyson Young

Times HigherEd: Happiness expert advises UK’s first ‘positive university’ by Jack Grove

Center for Positive Organizations: Soft Skills Training Boosts Productivity by Greta Guest

BBC: How to be wiser by Claudia Hammond

Guardian: Quick steps to mindfulness: the running Treatment by William Pullen

The Positive Organization: Living on the Upward Spiral by Robert Quinn

The Federalist: These New Yorkers Rediscovered Meaning By Serving Their Neighbors by Emily Esfahani Smith

The Economist: Walk in your own shoes: The case for compassion, not empathy, no author

Science Daily: Where belief in free will is linked to happiness, no author

There´s a Negativity Bias in your News. But not, if you follow these People on Twitter

A couple of weeks ago, I pusblished a list of 77 Positive Psychology People and Institutions to follow on Twitter which has grown by now to more than 90 accounts and was also picked by the friendly folks at Fulfillment Daily.

Today, I thought it would be a good idea to check my blog stats to see who profited the most from this. All in all, the post resulted in +4,500 klicks on people´s Twitter accounts. Here´s the Top-10 (excluding the Twitter list I created to follow all of those people):

Positive Psychologists on Twitter

So congratulations to Robert Biswas-Diener, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Paul Bloom, Dan Gilbert, Amy Cuddy, Robert Emmons, David Cooperrider, Jane Dutton, Emilia “Queen of Sisu” Lahti, and Jon Haidt. I hope those clicks converted to a lot of new followers for you!

77 Positive Psychology People and Institutions to follow on Twitter

Positive Twitter Update 2: If you´d like to follow all of the accounts mentioned below, you can do so by following this Twitter list I´ve created this morning.

Update 1: Thanks a lot for all the positive feedback to this post. Within just 12 hours, it has become one of the most-read on Mappalicious. Via your suggestions, the list is now at 90 Twitter accounts. Therefore, I´ve decided to copy/paste this post to the (permanent) Positive Psychology Resources section. Further suggestions to the list will be added there, not here.

Over the last four years, Twitter tweets could not be found via Google. Now, both companies announced a new partnership which makes sure tweets will be part of the search results again. This means Twitter will become (even) more important in the future. So I guess that’s a good reason to see what Twitter has to offer with regard to Positive Psychology. Below, you’ll find 77 Twitter accounts of researchers, consultants, coaches, writers, bloggers, instititions, associations, news outlets, and software tools. As always, this is meant to be work in progress. So if you feel you know somebody (or an institution etc.) that belongs on this list, please leave a comment below this article. If you want to make a suggestion, please stick to people that either are in research, or otherwise display an in-depth knowledge of Positive Psychology (visible through e.g., a corresponding university degree).


Consultants/Coaches/Speakers/Writers/Bloggers etc.

Research Groups/Institutions/Association/Movements


Positive Psychology and MAPP at Penn: Doing that Namedropping Thing

Actually, I should be busy writing on my MAPP final papers right now. But then, taking short breaks is supposed to help your mind stay fresh, right?

By now, a lot of people that have read my blog also contacted me to ask about my MAPP experience. Obviously, it´s not that easy to tell a story of 10 months in a few sentences. Hey, that´s why I started this blog in the first place…* There´s also been some questions about the tuition – and to be honest, it´s not exactly a bargain. I could have not taken part without some generous support from my employer (or rather: my boss). But hey – Penn belongs to the Ivy League and that comes with a price tag.

If you´d like to know why I am convinced that it was worth each and every penny (and much more…), please read my blog front to back. Otherwise, you might be convinced by the sheer (work-)force of people that you’ll  have the pleasure and honor to learn from. So here is the name-dropping list. Please note that the guest lecturers and assistant instructors will vary from year to year (C = core faculty; G = guest lecturer; A = assistant instructor that has taught part of a class at some point):

That´s value for money…

*And to become super-duper famous, of course…

Grapes of Wrath: On Morality and Fairness in the Monkey House

One of the guest speakers at the recent MAPP onsite has been Isaac Prilleltensky, who is the Dean of Education at the University of Miami. His research focus is on community well-being and its antecedents. In his lecture, he elaborated on the notion of well-being as a consequence (or at least: side-effect) of perceived fairness and justice in our lives. There is now considerable scientific evidence that these issues can have a major influence on our satisfaction with life and other important measures of psychological functioning. E.g., there´s a substantial statistical connection between a nations´ overall well-being and those countries´ Gini coefficient which, roughly speaking, measures the level of inequality in the wealth distribution of a country. I do not want to take a deep-dive into this here. If you want to know more, I would like to direct you to one of Prilleltensky´s recent papers by the name of Wellness as Fairness.

What really caught my attention is just how deeply the notion of fairness is rooted in our mammalian, tribal nature. I´ve already written a post on Paul Bloom´s research on the intuitive moral judgments of babies. But that´s by far not the end of the (moral) story. In the following video clip, you´ll see a snippet from a TED talk given by Frans de Waal, a Dutch primatologist a Emory University. He shows footage of an experiment involving capuchin monkeys. Bascially, two of them are “paid” for repeatedly carrying out a certain task by receiving cucumbers. Everything is OK. But then, the researcher starts to give one of the animals grapes instead – which (very obviously…) is considered to be a higher paycheck in the capuchin society. Watch what happens…

Can you feel that little monkey´s rage? And just for a moment: Transfer this to the realm of human emotion, multiply it by 10,000,000 (or so) – and try to understand what´s going on in countries like Egypt, Syria, and the Ukraine over the last years?



If you´d like to learn even more on Prilleltensky´s work on community well-being, you might want to watch his TED talk on that subject…

“Bad” Circles and “good” Triangles: Are Human Beings hard-wired for Altruism?

The morning of the last day of MAPP immersion week was once again hosted by Yale psychologist Paul Bloom. That day, he gave a brilliant lecture on (the development of) moral reasoning and corresponding research in that area. He argued that most research on the infamous trolley problem is seriously flawed – because all those thought experiments are typically carried out thinking about total strangers. Instead, he explained, our “moral sense” is necessarily awakened within close groups of acquaintances: our family and friends – our “tribe” – which in the end leads to completely different moral decisions.

What I found even more interesting is the question displayed the title of this blog post: Are we “moral blank slates” when coming into this world – or are children born with an innate preference to like “the Good”? In short: there is considerable empirical evidence that the latter may well be true. If you would like to find out, please watch this Youtube clip from the New York Times. It shows very cute (and insightful…) experiments carried out with six to twelve months old babies investigating – among other things – their ability to discriminate good and bad stuffed animals.


Of course these experiments do not undoubtedly prove that all men are created (equally) good. But at least I´m pretty sure now we´re anything but hard-wired to become suicide bombers or the like. That is 100% nurture, not nature. Seeing pictures* like this almost breaks my heart…**

* This picture can be found on the internet numerous times. Unfortunately, I could not get hold of its original source. If you happen to know, please contact me.

** This is meant as an example only, I don´t intend to offend any Muslim people. Actually, one of our bridesmaids is Muslim. It´s just that this picture gives a perfect example of how men oftentimes corrupt their own children… :-/

Of Cookies, free Will and George Clooney´s Sweat(er)

The fourth day of MAPP immersion week was again crammed with extraordinary lectures by extraordinary lecturers. The morning belonged to Roy Baumeister, one of the most highly acclaimed social psychologist in the world. He has conducted studies on a multitude of phenomena over the years, but may be known best for his research on willpower and self-control, carrying out experiments something along the line of this: He will put people in a room and have them sit at a table. On the table, there´s a plate full of tasty chocolate cookies; and another one with something to eat that is not attractive at all. People are told to wait for a couple of minutes. In addition, half of them are told not to touch the cookies – while it is totally o.k. to eat the other stuff.

Afterwards, the participants are lead into another room where they get a specific task, e.g. solving unsolvable anagrams. It is then measured how long the they will try to solve the anagrams before giving up. It turns out that people who were not allowed to touch the cookies on average quit a lot earlier. Baumeister calls this phenomenon ego depletion. He argues that willpower is a limited resource that is bound to fatigue similar to a muscle. This may be relevant especially to all those people trying to run multiple “personal change efforts” at a time. It seems more advisable to take if easy, one step at a time.*

Baumeister also gave a lecture on why humans as rational human beings have basically no other choice but to believe in free will; and another very provocative and mind-boggling one the evolutionary difference between men and women – and the consequences of those differences on our current society. I´m not going to elaborate on these topics here.

George Clooney

By Nicolas Genin (CC-BY-SA-2.0) via Wikimedia Commons

In the afternoon, Paul Bloom from Yale University took the stage. Among Paul´s manifold interest is the notion of human pleasure and basically, why we like things – and which attributes of an object increase or decrease our perceived utility. E.g., he will ask you what you would pay for a sweater that has been worn by George Clooney.

Turns out that the average American is willing to pay about 130-140$ for a sweater that has been worn by Gorgeous George and still contains his gorgeous sweat (meaning: it hasn´t been washed afterwards). When the thought experiment is extended to the notion that the sweater has been washed, the perceived price level drops considerably. Bloom argues that act of washing alters (in this case: spoils) the sweater´s perceived essence. Here, essence means the sum of the many intangible features of an object: the way it was produced, it´s history before getting to us etc. This also explains how a standard urinal suddenly can become a piece of very expensive art.

Probably doesn’t work with your sweat though – just in case…

* It seems especially unwise to undertake a change effort while dieting at the same time. Baumeister and colleagues also show that willpower may depend on a sufficient level of blood sugar – where low levels lead to ego depletion.