I´ve written about Star Wars in the past (see Odysseus, Luke Skywalker, and the Quick Fix and Bad is Stronger than Good! That is why our World desperately needs Positive Psychology). Today, I´d just like to share this short video that I found on Facebook. In an interview, George Lucas shares his view on the light side of The Force – and pro-social behavior, one of the building blocks of Positive Psychology. Enjoy!
What is the “paying it forward”-principle?
Basically, it´s the opposite of “paying it back”. Most theories about human nature assume that we are a pretty selfish bunch. We´re supposed to play the “tit for tat”-game – which roughly means “I rub your back, so you rub mine”. More generalized: We´re nice to people that have been nice to us – and vice-versa. Another, slightly less selfish version is: I´m nice to you because you´ve nice to someone I´m affiliated with.
Paying it forward runs counter to this intuition. In practical terms, it means, e.g., paying a coffee for a person you don´t no at all, just by leaving money at the counter and instructing the barista to tell the next customer that her tall decaf white soya moccacino has already been taken care of. Ideally, this will put the person in good/grateful mood which makes it more likely that this person will be nice to others in return, thereby creating a ripple effect of reciprocity (please have a look at this really cool video to have a glimpse at what this could look like).
In scientific terms, this process is called generalized reciprocity. Accordingly, we´re not being nice to someone specific, but rather to “the public” – because this general entity has been nice to us. If you want to see how far this principle can go, please watch Prof. Wayne E. Baker´s TEDx talk on this topic. Among other things, he talks about a long-lasting chain of kidney donations, where people gave a kidney to complete strangers – as a result of feeling gratitude because another stranger had donated a kidney to someone in their families.
Now, those scientists who think we´re a selfish bunch believe that people use the “pay it forward”-principle mainly for non-altruistic reasons, e.g., to create a favorable image vis-à-vis other relevant people. And while this may partly be true, it´s not the end of the story.
Together wit a colleague, the aforementioned Prof. Baker published a paper by the name of Paying It Forward vs. Rewarding Reputation: Mechanisms of Generalized Reciprocity. In an organizational setting, the researchers are able to show that people do engage in both types of behaviors: Helping other and then hoping that those who have witnessed the positive behavior will be helpful in return (rewarding reputation) – and the unconditional, more general type where we help people “just because”. They also find that the generalized reciprocity creates stronger ripple effects in the long run (here’s a nice summary of the paper).
In the words of the researchers:
We conduct the first-ever critical test of two key mechanisms: paying it forward and rewarding reputation. These are fundamentally different grammars of organizing, either of which could sustain a system of generalized reciprocity. In an organization, paying it forward is a type of organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) that occurs when members of an organization help third parties because they themselves were helped. Rewarding reputation is a type of OCB that occurs when peers monitor one another, helping those who help others and refusing to help those who do not. Using behavioral data collected from members of two organizational groups over a three-month period, we found that reputational effects were strongest in the short term but decayed thereafter. Paying it forward had stronger and more lasting effects.
Ain’t that nice… 🙂
How do creative people come up with great ideas? Organizational psychologist Adam Grant (here´s an interview he recently gave for Mappalicious…) studies “originals”: thinkers who dream up new ideas and take action to put them into the world. In this talk, learn three unexpected habits of originals — including embracing failure. “The greatest originals are the ones who fail the most, because they’re the ones who try the most,” Grant says. “You need a lot of bad ideas in order to get a few good ones.”
While this is Adam´s first TED talk, he´s given two TEDx talks in the past:
Share and enjoy!
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 are listed here, No. 23 – 33 ½ will be published soon. The pieces of advice are ordered (roughly) by difficulty/level of effort etc. Share and enjoy!
12) Sing when you´re winning
Just like dancing, singing seems to be a natural anti-depressant. Singing is enjoyable and a very healthy kind of physical activity. It doesn´t matter if you sing in the shower, the car, or for an audience. And it surely doesn’t matter if your singing is good or bad. An especially beneficial way seems to be joining a choir. In doing so, people additional profit from the social support such an environment entails.
- Choral singing and psychological wellbeing: Quantitative and qualitative findings from English choirs in a cross-national survey
- Does singing promote well-being?: An empirical study of professional and amateur singers during a singing lesson
13) Remember the good Times
Good things that have happened in the past can be a powerful mood (and meaning) booster for the present. It could be our fondest childhood memories, our wedding day, or that beautiful sunset from our last vacation: Actively remembering these events can turn today into a brighter day. Accordingly, it´s helpful to create what positive psychologists like to call a positive portfolio. This is a box or a folder (these days, probably a digital one) where you keep especially uplifting memories, such as the wedding video, the first photo of your kid, your favorite piece of music etc.
- The past makes the present meaningful: Nostalgia as an existential resource
- The power of the past: Nostalgia as a meaning-making resource
14) Buy that Concert Ticket, not the Dress
Conventional wisdom holds that money cannot buy happiness. And while the best things in life are really (more or less free), most things do cost some money. Now, a sizeable body of research shows that investing our money in experiences such as concerts and vacations will be more beneficial for our long-term happiness than buying “stuff”. First, those events are typically shared experiences, second they can be re-lived in memory (see No.13), and third, especially memorable experiences seem to become parts of our selves, an integral part of “our story” – whereas the “stuff” will mostly be gone at some point in the future.
- If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right
- I am what I do, not what I have: The differential centrality of experiential and material purchases to the self
15) Spend Money on thy Neighbor
If you´re neither into concerts nor vacations (see No. 14), and you don´t like to buy stuff, it could be a great idea to spend your dough on other people. There´s abundant empirical evidence for the notion that giving money to others (e.g., via charity) can be a veritable happiness booster. Some studies find that spending your bucks on others is much more beneficial for our emotional wellbeing than keeping it for ourselves. If you don´t know where to start: Mashable provides a great overview of online funding sites.
- Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness
- Prosocial spending and well-being: Cross-cultural evidence for a psychological universal
16) Practice realistic Optimism
Truth is: the world is a much better place than we think it is. Our senses and our brains are gauged to pay attention to and process negative information much more thoroughly than positive stimuli (see this post for more info). News editors are well aware of this fact and select their stories accordingly. When these two mechanisms join forces, our perspective on the state of the world can become pretty gloomy and depressive. At this point, it could be helpful to practice what Positive Psychologists like to call realistic optimism. It´s not based on seeing everything through rose-colored glasses, but rather on thorough investigation of facts and probabilities. A good way to start this is to learn how to fight off unwarranted negative thoughts. For information on how to do this, please visit this post on Positive Psychology News Daily.
- Cultivating Optimism in Childhood and Adolescence
- Positive Organizational Behavior in the Workplace: The Impact of Hope, Optimism, and Resilience
17) Go with the Flow
Flow (as described by eminent Positive Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi) is a state in which a person is fully immersed in a feeling of focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of pursuing a specific activity. It´s a surefire way to satisfaction and personal growth. The experience of Flow is dependent on a set of internal and external conditions, among them, focusing on a single goal and shutting of any distractions (see Wikipedia for an overview). There´s a great article on Fast Company about companies that try to enable better conditions for Flow at work.
- Optimal experience in work and leisure
- The Effect of Perceived Challenges and Skills on the Quality of Subjective Experience
One of the hallmarks of Positive Psychology is a taxonomy of 24 character strengths. You can find out what your top attributes are (so-called signature strengths) for free when visiting the website of the VIA Institute on Character (mine are: curiosity, zest, and love of leaning). There, you´ll also find tons of information on how to use that knowledge in order to lead a more satisfying life. Generally speaking, the more we use our most pronounced strengths (e.g., in our occupation), the happier we are.
- Strengths of Character and Well-Being
19) Be a Do-Gooder
Recommendation No. 15 already touched the beneficial effects of pro-social spending for our own happiness. The same can be said pertaining to pro-social behavior, e.g., volunteering and committing random acts of kindness. There seem to be positive short-term consequences for our mood (so-called helpers high) but also long-term effects. When we help others, our life becomes more meaningful – and that´s a source of happiness in its own right.
- Doing well by doing good: Benefits for the benefactor
- When helping helps: Autonomous motivation for pro-social behavior and its influence on well-being for the helper and recipient
20) The Pen is mightier than your bad Moods
Writing is one of the most potent methods for “getting a grip” on life. It can help us to focus our attention on the goods things (see No. 11) or, alternatively, to come to terms with bad events, especially as a way of creating mental and emotional distance. If you´re not sure how to start, you’ll find advice in this article on Psychology Today.
It has been shown that humans have lived together with domesticated animals for at least 500.000 years. Pets can be a valuable source of comfort, amusement, and distraction. As such, research shows that living with pets has several beneficial long-term effects for our psychological and physiological health, especially for children. Just a word of advice: Before you bring Lassie home, please make sure that you and your family are prepared and willing to take on the responsibility of owning a pet (hint: cats are much more low-maintenance than dogs).
- The Human–Companion Animal Bond: How Humans Benefit
- Companion animals and human health: Benefits, challenges, and the road ahead
22) Friends with Happiness Benefits
Typically, our social network (the non-virtual one, a.k.a. family and friends) is one of the most important sources of comfort and satisfaction in our lives. Now, the interesting thing is: almost everything can spread through these networks by means of social contagion. E.g., if of most of your friends are fitness freaks, your risk for obesity is considerably lower than when most of them are a little on the chubby side. The same goes for things like smoking, and even activities such as getting married. And this mechanism also holds true for emotions such as happiness (as well as depression). Bottom line: if your posse is a really cheerful bunch of people, this will positively influence your own emotional wellbeing in the long run (at least statistically). Conversely, this also means it could be beneficial to rid yourself of some “forms of energy” in your life.
- Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study
- Social network determinants of depression
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.
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.
The reason why the world is in chaos right now is because things are being loved and people are being used.” *
Sound especially true now that Christmas time is here again…
* Could´t find an original source. If you know something, please tell me.
Yesterday, I gave a one-hour introductory talk on Positive Psychology. Yet, the listeners weren´t your usual business crowd. The talk was embedded in a convention of about 100 undertakers (more formally: morticians); precisely, they were a youth organization (in this case meaning: under 40) of the “German Association of Morticians”. The convention was held in a larger hotel complex and there even was an exhibition for hearses, caskets, urns, and other…well…undertaker supplies. Actually, some of the regular hotel guests looked a bit scared.
While introducing Marty Seligman´s PERMA model of flourishing and talking about meaning in life, and interesting question came to my mind: Are undertakers happier or unhappier than the average person? And: are they experiencing higher levels of eudaimonic well-being in their lives?
Obviously, undertakers are confronted with death and mortality all the time – but not necessarily their own mortality. Yet, this could be the case, of course. And this, in turn, should lead to specific consequences. Making people think about their own death (inducing a “limited time perspective”) has been shown to increase prosocial behavior and diminish one´s “extrinsic value orientation”. And this is associated with higher eudaimonic well-being.
I did some straw polls with their participants. Most confirmed that they are leading fulfilled lives. But they also admitted there seems to be a high prevalence of burnout in that profession – probably as a consequence of the “emotional work” it entails.
Anyway, that should be an interesting study from many different angles: comparing undertakers with the general population. Anyone wants to do it?