Mappalicious | Corona | PTG

What doesn´t Kill us Makes us Wiser: Psychological Growth in Times of the Corona Crisis

I haven´t posted anything new on Mappalicious for quite a while – but I think now is a good time to do so. Yesterday, I was interviewed live on German TV, talking about the short-term and long-term implications of the corona crisis for psychological well-being. While getting home from Cologne to my hometown on an almost empty fast train, I had some time to reflect on the last weeks – and what I´ve towitnessed either personally or via the media.

Covid–19 constitutes a world-wide health emergency and an ensuing threat to the global economy. While addressing the nation on national TV some days ago, Chancellor Merkel said the situation presents a challenge to my fellow Germans that can only be likened to the herculean efforts that were invested after the re-unification 1989/90 – or possibly even when trying to rebuild the nation after World War II.

Nico Rose | Psychologist | TVSome people will definitely feel it might be too early to even think about the possible positive consequences of this dreadful situation. Yet, I consider myself an eternal optimist, I just can´t help it. We have already seen multiple accounts of environmental upshots and “nature” reclaiming some of its proper territory as an outcome of billions of people shutting down travel and other human activities that cause pollution. But, being a psychologist, my thoughts center on the possible long-term upshots for the human condition.

Beyond Resilience and Bouncing Back

After finally getting home, I revisited some of my earlier writing on a phenomenon that, in my branch of psychology, goes by the name of Posttraumatic Growth (PTG). While much of the research on the consequences of traumatic life events focuses on negative outcomes and their mitigation (coping with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder; PTSD), by now there is a lot of research that hints at a path that, in the long run, is markedly different from just coping and eventually bouncing back. It is true that traumatic experiences can leave people shattered. But that is by far not the only possible trajectory.

A sizable body of extant research, initiated via seminal work by researchers Richard G. Tedeschi and Lawrence G. Calhoun, is able to demonstrate that, over time and under the right conditions (especially lots of social support), people may manage to reach a markedly higher level of psychological functioning compared to the time before the critical incident. In case it occurs, PTG tends to manifest itself via five pathways that can occur separately, in conjunction, or somewhat consecutively (not necessarily in the order given below):

Now, while the corona virus is still rampaging and will likely continue to do so for quite a while, I cannot help but notice the incipient signs of PTG – basically everywhere I look. It is utterly terrible that so many people are dying or losing their jobs right now. But that is only a part of what´s going on. Globally, people suddenly manage to cherish the “simple things” again: The fact that they themselves and their loved ones are still healthy. The safe space of their homes, and at best, gardens. The music. That sizable stockpile of toilet paper (but that´s another story…).

Traditional zero-sum games suddenly are turned into non-zero-sum games. On a global scale, individuals (and even lots of for-profit organizations, for that matter) start supporting, caring, and rooting for each other in unprecedented quantity and quality. They freely share their resources, their knowledge, and their time. We swiftly learn how to lead, learn, and love in new ways, a lot of them involving the smart use of digital technologies.

While oftentimes, many people feel helpless in times of crisis and wait for some kind of savior (in Germany, mostly in the form of “the government”), I see folks getting creative about their personal lives and their businesses, ramping up their sense of self-efficacy and ownership, developing a distinct can-do attitude. I could go on endlessly with these observations – but you get the picture.

Outlook: Has Hollywood told us the Truth all along?

Now and then, I feel we´re all turning to that part of the plot from cheesy disaster movies where people, towards the beginning of the third act, recognize a sense of urgency and unity. Suddenly, they bury the hatchet and finally start to cooperate in order to beat up alien arses. Just, in real life it´s not cheesy at all. It´s strikingly beautiful (e.g., watch the Spanish police force root for hospital staff in Madrid). In more places than not, the corona virus brings out the best in people.

While I´m an optimist and tend to (force myself to) look on the bright side, I don´t classify as a naïve ignoramus. I am fully aware that, in all likelihood, most people will revert to more self-serving behaviors when we´ve found a way to adequately deal with this pandemic (first and foremost, when a reliable vaccine has been created). A quick look at history suggests this is a sure bet. My hope is that more folks than not will not go back all the way.

Time and time again, psychological research has exposed the fact that creating significant and lasting changes in human behaviors (without an external crisis) is strikingly hard. It becomes all the more difficult when people imagine that change to be a black-or-white, all-or-nothing game. In this spirit, I remember learning from management professor and leadership luminary Kim Cameron at University of Michigan, shortly before Christmas 2017. He imbued us with the idea that changing a behavior to the extent of just one percent, but then sustaining that effort for 365 days, will make a difference that makes a difference – be in our personal lives or within organizations. Now, this is what I hope for, for myself and all of mankind:

Let´s make sure we all sustain at least one percent of what we´re all doing better right now – when all of this is through. Let´s sustain one percent for a year. And then another one. And another…


Prof. Dr. Nico Rose is a German organizational psychologist. He currently teaches at International School of Management (ISM), Dortmund, Germany. From 2010 – 2018, he worked for Bertelsmann, Europe´s premier media company, most recently as VP Employer Branding & Talent Acquisition.


Credit: Hope picture

Can you run 50 Marathons in 50 Days? The Queen of Sisu Can!

It sounds impossible – but of course it´s not. Some 75% of the 1.500 miles in total have been conquered already. By whom?

By Emilia Lahti. Emilia is a fellow Penn Mappster and has embarked on a truly remarkable journey at the beginning of this year: On January 18th, she started a 1,500-mile / 50-day running journey across the length of New Zealand. Her goal: to raise awarenss for nonviolence and peace. Ph.D. student Emilia is survivor of domestic violence and has initiated this project (“Sisu not Silence” to raise awareness around this neglected issue. In her words:

Much like running a thousand miles, healing from past trauma and impacting social change are also trials of endurance that begin by taking one step at a time. The key to overcoming goals that may seem impossible is to aim for relentless forward movement – no matter how slow the pace may feel at times.

You can follow her progress (and support her) via her homepageFacebook, and Instagram. Go, Emilia!

Emilia Lahti | Sisu not Silence

Are you ready for the 2. Wave of Positive Psychology?

I guess there ´s a heck of a lot of people out there who haven’t even heard about the first wave of Positive Psychology – and now, there´s supposed to be a second one? Yes, sir!

For quite some time now, Positive Psychology has been criticized for focusing way too much on the positive side(s) of life, while (by and large) ignoring negative phenomena – which, after all, is why Positive Psychology was founded in the first place. I feel this criticism is unwarranted pertaining to the academic/research side of things. E.g., research on Post-Traumatic Growth has always been readily embraced. But I guess in terms of marketing PP to the public, there´s more than a bit truth to this allegation.

Last year, Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener published their book The Upside of Your Dark Side, others are following suit now. There´s a very recent article on Psychology Today by Tim Lomas: Second Wave Positive Psychology: An Introduction. Here´s the central part:

Second Wave Positive Psychology is underpinned by four dialectical principles: appraisal; co-valence; complementarity; and evolution.

Appraisal means that we cannot appraise something as either positive or negative without taking context into account.

Co-valence reflects the idea that many situations and experiences comprise positive and negative elements.

Complementarity is about the idea of Ying and Yang, that positive and negative are co-creating sides of the same coin.

Evolution draws on Hegel’s notion of thesis-antithesis-synthesis.

In this case, traditional psychology can be seen as the thesis, Positive Psychology is the anti-thesis, and SWPP could evolve into a synthesis, where the truths of both thesis and antithesis are preserved, while their flaws are overcome.

Just in case you´ll find that article stimulating: it is based on an academic paper which can be found on Research Gate: Second Wave Positive Psychology: Exploring the Positive–Negative Dialectics of Wellbeing.

Another synopsis of SWPP is proposed by Paul T. P. Wong in this article: What Is Second Wave Positive Psychology and Why is it necessary?

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Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then…

Nico_Mika_ParkWord.

Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and awful it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.

(L.R. Knost)

No Pain, no Gain? Think again! We are able to experience Post-Ecstatic Growth, Science says

Post Ex GrowthOriginally coined by German philosopher Nietzsche, the following quote has become a piece of common knowledge: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”. Most people have – at one point or another – made the experience that going through really tough times may render us stronger than before, and not shattered as one would initially expect. In psychology, this mechanism is labeled Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG; here´s an overview of the idea).

Some people might even claim that there is no gain without pain. Turns out, that this view may be wrong, or at least incomplete. In a 2013 article published in the Journal of Positive Psychology titled Gains without pains? Growth after positive events, Ann Marie Roepke, Ph.D. student at Penn´s Positive Psychology Center, presents evidence for what she calls Post-Ecstatic Growth, based on a survey among some 600 people. Basically, Roepke had people name the one experience in peoples lives that they remember as the most positive (e.g., the birth of a child). Then, she asked people to specify which category best characterized their positive event, based on Seligman´s PERMA framework and which positive emotions had been evoked by the event (e.g., in awe, inspired, uplifted, joyful, content, fascinated etc.). Additionally, she assessed the outcome of that event, for instance, feelings of personal growth or “doors opening up” for new possibilities in life.

In short, Roepke found clear evidence for the existence of Post-Ecstatic Growth. Here are some excerpts from the discussion section of her article:

Positive events can, in fact, catalyze growth. Although hedonic happiness levels tend to return to baseline after positive events, important changes in eudaimonic well-being and in worldview may remain. Four domains of growth are particularly important after positive events:

  • new meaning and purpose in life;
  • higher self-esteem;
  • spiritual development;
  • and better relationships.

Some positive experiences are more likely to lead to (self-perceived) growth than others. […] Events that evoke stronger positive emotions are more closely linked to growth. This is consistent with Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory: positive events can provide opportunities to expand one’s thought-action repertoire, and this expansion can be perceived as growth. Indeed, participants who reported that a positive experience opened their eyes to new opportunities, goals, roles, and values also felt they had grown more. […] Inspiration, awe, and elevation are especially important positive emotions for growth. […] In contrast, more hedonic positive emotion (e.g. feeling joyful and content) predicts less growth.

Inspiration is related to meaning, a sense of connection to something greater than the self. Meaning, like inspiration, is closely tied to growth: meaningful experiences are associated with more growth than experiences of accomplishment, engagement, relationship, and hedonic positive emotion.

Roepke´s conclusion:

Our best moments can inspire us, connect us to something greater than ourselves, and open our eyes to new possibilities, ultimately giving rise to growth.

Hence, there is gain without pain. If we seek out the right positive experiences, we are able to experience gain from previous gains, possibly entering into an upward-spiral of growth.

5 recent Positive Psychology Books taking a very special Angle on the Subject

By now, there are hundreds (or probably thousands…) of books on Positive Psychology. Most of them are general introductions to the subject or books focusing on the use of Positive Psychology in organizations (please see the general and organizational book lists on Mappalicious).

So today, I compiled a list of recent publications that looks a little different. All the books look at Positive Psychology from a very distinct and special angle. Enjoy!

 

Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener look at the positive value of our negative emotions, thereby challenging the assumption that Positive Psychology is all about seeing the world through rose-colored glasses.

http://www.amazon.com/Upside-Your-Dark-Side-Self–Drives/dp/1594631735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1422713137&sr=1-1

 

Kate Hefferon sheds light on the role of the body in Positive Psychology, thereby filling a gap in the extant literature that mostly focuses on the psychological side of things.

http://www.amazon.com/Positive-Psychology-Body-Somatopsychic-Flourishing/dp/0335247717/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

 

Rafael Calvo and Dorian Peters show us the (near) future of technology, where smartphones and wearables, together with the appropriate applications, will help to foster and sustain human well-being.

http://www.amazon.com/Positive-Computing-Technology-Wellbeing-Potential/dp/0262028158/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

 

Michael Bishop aims at integrating philosophical and psychological theories of well-being and proposes a new theory for understanding flourishing.

http://www.amazon.com/Good-Life-Philosophy-Psychology-Well-Being/dp/0199923116/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1422714230&sr=1-1

 

Finally, Stephen Joseph takes on one of my most favorite subjects: post-traumatic growth. He explains how we can navigate (traumatic) change and adversity to find new meaning and direction in life.

http://www.amazon.com/What-Doesnt-Kill-Psychology-Posttraumatic/dp/0465032338/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1422714146&sr=1-3