Sunday, 31 August 2008

Wealth, Happiness and Life Satisfaction

Here's my latest article on Positive Psychology News Daily on that age-old subject of wealth and happiness. It seems to have caused a bit of a stir with some readers, judging from the number of comments (32 as of today), although maybe not for the right reasons!

Never mind, I'm sure you'll find the recent research interesting. Feel free to write your comments on the Positive Psychology News Daily site itself.

Image: thisduck

Friday, 22 August 2008

Perkfests and the Happiness Police

A couple of years ago I met someone at a networking event whose business card described him as a 'Chief Happiness Officer'. And no he wasn't wearing a red nose, curly wig and big shoes...As a corporate role I couldn't see it catching on (not in the UK anyway) but perhaps I was wrong...

This is an interesting article, especially bearing in mind the economic woes we're experiencing. Personally I doubt whether any of the gestures made by these large organisations will be sufficient to enhance the psychological health of the target group for any longer than the time it takes to guzzle six pints of Ben 'n' Jerry's...but then again, maybe I'm wrong about this too.

If any readers have experience of corporate "Happiness Police", please do get in touch.

Image: TeeJe</span>

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Positive Thinking Exercises

Many thanks to Kelly Sonora for sending me this link - 100 positive thinking exercises. My advice would be not to wait until you're having a bad day to put these into action - once you're in a negative frame of mind it will require more effort and self-control to get yourself out of it. Trying practising some of them everyday starting from today - create some new 'positive rituals'. This will make it all the more easier to continue once the going does get tough.

Image: wadem

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Full of Life?

This BBC news article
reports on a government survey which shows that the vast majority of British people are friends with, or have things in common with, people of different age groups. I wonder what the specific questions were. And do they include family in that? 'Having things in common with' is a very broad concept really. And what do they mean by 'generation'?

Say you're 35 and socialise with people who are 25 or 45 - if asked 'Do you socialise with people of different age groups?', you could say yes, but that doesn't mean you also socialise with people who are 15, 55 or 65+. Likewise if you're 65 - you might have friends who are 55 or 75, but none who are younger than 40...

That's the problem with soundbites. When it comes to statistics you need to see the full detail to be able to make a proper judgement.

Anyway, the article mentions another government website, 'Full of Life' which claims to be "a celebration of the opportunities, achievements, and aspirations of older people and their contribution to our society and economy". Usually I'd say great, this looks like a really positive move. Apart from a couple of 'case studies', however, the website is really only a portal to various other old age-related sites. I agree totally that we should celebrate the contribution that older people make, but first I'd like to see the government do something constructive about the state of old people's homes, and fund treatments for mental illness for people over 65 which, I was shocked to find out, the NHS doesn't have to cover.

Image: maiqui maiqui

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Positive Psychology for Working and Living

I just love this idea!

This post, for Positive Psychology News Daily, looks at two favourite subjects of mine - firstly how people find satisfaction in the jobs they do and secondly, how Positive Psychology can be applied in non-psychology related fields - in this case, Design.

It also links to two other articles I wrote last year, here and here.

The image above is a reproduction of True’s original design, by Chris Glass.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

The Dark Side of Positive Psychology

I never thought I'd be posting a link like this about Positive Psychology, but I think you should read this blogpost, which was sent to me on Monday. It refers to a new book, "The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals", in which it is alleged that Martin Seligman, founder of Positive Psychology, was involved in CIA torture. If true, this would of course be completely unethical behaviour, and completely against the principles of Positive Psychology.

After that you should read this blogpost, from one of Seligman's colleagues, Ben Dean, which includes Seligman's response to the allegations (he denies this involvement).

Let's hope the truth will out sooner rather than later.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Happiness and the Hedonic Treadmill

At the 4th European Conference on Positive Psychology in Croatia, Randy Larsen, Psychology Professor at Washington University in St Louis, presented on ‘Overcoming the ‘Hedonic Treadmill’. In fact, the session focussed more on explaining what the Hedonic Treadmill is and how it operates rather than on presenting loads of new ideas on how to beat it…Maybe he ran out of time, a common occurrence during the conference.

So what is the Hedonic Treadmill exactly? In short, it’s the idea that we humans adapt to pleasurable circumstances, events and experiences – which explains why the joy you feel from getting that sought-after pay rise, new contract, dress or car lasts only for a few hours, days or weeks. We simply get used to the positive emotion. The novelty wears off.

What makes the Hedonic Treadmill so interesting is that we adapt to negative circumstances, events and experiences differently; here, there is something called a negativity bias at work, which means that bad events carry more weight than good events; so for example, losing £50 is a more negative experience that finding £50 is a positive one.

Larsen’s research comparing good and bad events shows that bad ones decay more slowly, i.e. negative emotions take longer to wear off. Said another way, we adapt to positive events more quickly than we do to negative ones. No wonder so many people get addicted to shopping – they’re forever trying to increase the duration of positive emotion, without realising that it will just keep wearing off.

One explanation for this may be that negative emotions last longer for evolutionary reasons. Thousands of years ago we couldn’t have afforded to spend too much of our time caught up in the positive emotions associated with having fun and enjoying ourselves when there might be a sabre-toothed tiger coming round the corner – we needed to be ready to deal with it (‘fight or flight’). For our own survival, it was necessary that negative emotions lasted longer than positive ones.

So, where does this leave us, bearing in mind that millions of Westerners seems to be running round the Hedonic (Shopping) Treadmill every day? Unfortunately Larsen didn’t suggest any concrete answers, other than perhaps Positive Psychologists need to be investigating ways to accelerate the adaptation to negative events and experiences, rather than looking for new interventions to increase positive emotion. I think he has a good point, don’t you?

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Happiness and Policy

On Monday evening I heard Ed Diener (aka Smiley Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois) present at the 4th European Conference on Positive Psychology in Croatia on the subject of Well-being on Planet Earth. Leaving aside the fact that Diener works for the Gallup Organisation, he presented some curious findings about the predictors of life satisfaction and positive and negative emotion, and the relevance for policy use.

Life Satisfaction vs Emotion

Diener’s ‘happiness formula’ is one of the most well-known in Positive Psychology:

Subjective Well-being (i.e. happiness) = Satisfaction with life + Positive Emotion – Negative Emotion.

This means that happiness is not a simple measure of how good you feel (emotion) but also includes a cognitive element of what you think about your life (satisfaction with life). Still with me? Great!

This explains why countries like Denmark can feature at the top of some happiness scales, but not others.

For example, when asked “on a scale of 0-10 how satisfied are you with your life?” Denmark comes top of the league table. But when you look at which countries are high in positive emotion, New Zealand, Honduras and Panama come at the top.

But happiness is even more complex than that – the presence of positive emotion is not the same thing as the absence of negative emotion (in the same way that health is not the mere absence of illness).

So countries which are high in positive emotion are not the same as those which are low in negative emotion (e.g. Denmark, Sweden and Australia).

Diener’s research with Gallup has also found that the top two predictors of satisfaction with life and positive emotion are not the same:

Predictors of satisfaction with life:

1. Money (as measured by GDP per capita)
2. Optimism
3. Whether I can count on other people

Predictors of positive emotion:

1. Whether I learned something yesterday
2. Freedom to choose
3. Whether I can count on other people

Relevance for Policy Use

According to the Gallup data, 94% of Danes score more then 8/10 for happiness, whereas 97% of Togolese score less than 3/10. Not surprisingly (because this is where Gallup’s interests lie), Diener used these extraordinary findings to argue that we should pay more attention to country-level well-being, since the way in which individual countries are run must be what makes the difference to these overall happiness scores. His suggestion is that societies would do well to use well-being measures in their creation of country-wide policies, as well as the more traditional economic and social measures.

It’s difficult not to disagree with him when you look at the data*; however, the question then arises as to whether it’s the government’s role to make people happy. My own perspective is the government does have a role to play in creating the right environment, although I think we could do a great deal more to improve people’s lives by spending the resources on treating mental illness effectively.

* Sadly the data Diener presented isn't in the public arena since it belongs to the Gallup Organisation.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Positive Psychology and Politics

A great article from The Guardian yesterday about the plans of Lord Layard, the so-called 'Happiness Tsar', to bring happiness to the UK masses. As an economist, his epiphany was the realisation that above a certain point, money and happiness aren't correlated.

Putting aside the argument about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and depression (which is one definitely worth having), I'm not yet convinced that government intervention to make us all happier is either necessary or effective. I'm all for educating people to make their own decisions but perhaps the government should concentrate its efforts on creating better schools and hospitals first...

But no doubt it would become bogged down in happiness measurements, targets and standards anyway before any real difference was made!

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Positive Psychology, Money and Friendship

My June article on Positive Psychology News Daily reviews the recent research into money, happiness and friendship.

In short, North et al's (2008) research (274 married adults across a ten-year period) shows that family social support (as measured by cohesion, expressiveness and absence of conflict) is substantially associated with happiness even after controlling for income, and that change in family social support is positively related to change in happiness, whereas change in family income is not.

For the full article,including references, click here

Image: Shelly S

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Positive Psychology - Strengths

At college today our MAPP class completed a SWOT Analysis for Positive Psychology. Here's a summary of what we thought are its greatest Strengths (not necessarily in priority order) :

  • Evidence-based
  • Universal - applies to all cultures and all life-stages
  • Captures the public imagination
  • Provides a common language
  • Deals with real-life issues
  • Brings together diverse fields, such as economics, politics, design and philosophy
  • Goes beyond the "medical model" of traditional psychology
  • Underpins sustainable development
  • Bridges academia and real world
  • Acknowledges the negative in human experience
  • Gives us resources
I'll post some further info on the SWOT over the next few days.

Thanks to:

Lucy, Francesca, Claire, Paul, Emily, Charlotte, Elena, Melody, Sam, Valerie, Eleni, Cassie & Ilona for their input, and to Dr Carol Craig & Nic Marks for suggesting the exercise.

Image: Editor B

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Unhappy workers take more sick leave

Gallup-Healthways has recently issued details of their Well-being Index - a survey of over 100,000 Americans which shows that employees who are unhappy at work take, on average, an extra 15 days sick leave a year. Yes, that's right, an extra 15 days a year.

The survey assesses well-being at work by asking employees about

i) job satisfaction,
ii) whether their boss is authoritative or collaborative,
iii) whether there is openness and trust in the workplace and
iv) whether their individual strengths are recognised.

Just over a fifth of full-time employees apparently reported working in a negative environment. Even if only a half of those surveyed are full-time, this still equates to an enormous amount of lost productivity.

Clearly this has significant cost implications for business and for the economy in general; so any organisation, profit-making or otherwise, which doesn't take employee well-being seriously should probably think again.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Iceland - the Happiest Country?

As with any happiness or life satisfaction league table, who comes top depends on exactly what's being measured and how. In this article by The Observer journalist John Carlin, Iceland is referred to as the happiest country in the world. How can this be? We all know that it's Denmark!

Carlin's conclusion is based on Iceland's ranking in the Human Development Index (HDI), one of the four United Nations assessments of human potential - it measures three basic dimensions - a long and healthy life, education and a decent standard of living.

1. Health is measured by life expectancy at birth,
2. Education is measured by a combination of the adult literacy rate and the combined gross enrolment ratio in primary, secondary, and tertiary education,
3. Standard of living is measured by Purchasing Power Parity (PPP US$).

So the HDI isn't actually quantifying either happiness or life satisfaction, and it's questionable (in Positive Psychology terms) whether health, wealth and education significantly contribute to happiness anyway.

In fact there are some elements of Icelandic society which would contradict the conclusion that it's one of the best countries in the world to live in, for example, the highest divorce rate in Europe. However, this doesn't mean they have unhappy families - in fact writes Carlin', "The kids will be just fine, because the family will rally round them, and likely as not, the parents will continue to have a civilised relationship, based on the usually automatic understanding that custody of the children will be shared".

The article provides further insights into those character traits which might explain why Icelanders are generally happy people (if not the happiest), for example, optimism, resilience, self-confidence and a can-do attitude. That said, if we follow Lyubomirsky's "Happiness Pie" model, after genes (50%), what we chose to do with our time is the largest contributor (40%) to our happiness - do we have any readers who could comment on how the average happy Icelander spends his/her time?

Whether or not it's the happiest country, Iceland takes first place in the 2007/08 HDI, followed by Norway, Australia, Canada and Ireland. The USA is in 12th position, Denmark 14th and the UK 16th. At the bottom , not surprisingly are the West African countries of Guinea (175th), Burkina Faso (176th) and Sierra Leone (177th). For the full list, see here.

Image: GĂșnna

Monday, 26 May 2008

Positive Psychology, Music and Song

In this month's Positive Psychology News Daily article we explore the links between Positive Psychology, making music and singing in unison.

Not only are they both good for your physical health, scientists like Professor Stephen Clift of the Sidney de Haan Centre for Arts and Health are now investigating the benefits for psychological well-being, including increased happiness,self-esteem and self-efficacy, and reduced depression.

Read the rest of the article here.

Image: Tallalex85

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Positive Psychology down on the farm

This is the most off the wall application of positive psychology in business I've come across yet - who would have thought that performing Tai Chi in front of cows would improve the quality and quantity of their milk?

Devon farmer, Robert Taverner, says that not only does performing Tai Chi together bond his workforce, the fact that it makes them more relaxed and happy has a positive knock-one effect on his 250 dairy cows, which results in them producing higher quality milk. You can watch a video of various members of the farm's team performing a different Tai Chi ritual for every day of the week on Robert's website.

For a quick (3 minute) insight into Tai Chi for cows, listen to Robert on BBC Radio 4's Saturday Live programme yesterday morning (10 May 2008)- it starts at about 6 mins 45 seconds into the programme.

Image: WukieGrl

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Are You Friendly and Sociable?

'Why, of course!', you reply, slightly indignant that we've even asked the question. And no doubt at work or down the pub or gym, you are. But what about with your neighbours? Do you know the other people who live in your street? And would you leave them a set of keys to your house?

These were questions asked by recent BBC research into neighbourliness. In response:

  • 36% of us wouldn't trust anyone on our street with a set of keys.
  • surprisingly, in the younger age group (25-34 year olds), this is a whopping 48%!
  • 22% of us believe our neighbourhoods have become less friendly in the last five years.

A lot of this has been attributed to the loss of local institutions (like schools, small shops, and Post Office closures), and the fact that people work further and further away from home. There are fewer and fewer reasons for people who live near each other to get together.

It's interesting (and concerning) that British people are far less trusting than other Europeans - when measured by the World Values Survey, which asked 'Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you need to be very careful in dealing with people?'. Britain is one of the few countries (along with the US) in which the levels of trust have been falling.

In 1981, 42.5% of British people said "yes most people can be trusted". By 1998 this had fallen to 30.4% The levels of trust in other European countries has actually been rising over this same period of time - take Denmark for example, where the number who said "yes" rose from 45.9% to 64.1% between 1981 and 1999. Apparently Britain is the only European country in which levels of trust have been falling. Hmmmmm, makes you think doesn't it?

But back to the more immediate question of you and your neighbours...if you think your neighbourhood is unfriendly, you can bet that they feel the same way. So, be bold! Invite a few round for a cup of coffee, or a drink one evening. And now that summer is on its way, you could even bring out the BBQ. Go on, take the first step - you'll be pleasantly surprised how human your neighbours turn out to be.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Monitoring Well-being in Schools

According to the BBC News today, there are plans afoot to make UK schools monitor children's well-being, as well as their exam results.

On closer inspection of the source report in the Guardian, 18 new social targets are being proposed, among them:

* bullying
* teenage pregnancy rates
* pupil's drug problems
* criminal records
* obesity levels.

Apparently the move is part of a government attempt to reduce drug use, and the teenage pregnancy rate (ours is the highest in Europe). How setting new targets for schools is going to achieve this I'm not entirely sure. 'What gets measured gets managed' say some business people. OK, but that's a long way away from 'what gets measured gets managed well'.

Incidentally, the above 5 measures are not well-being measures, strictly speaking. The assumption being made by the government (wrongly) is that if you reduce what is negative (ill-being) you automatically increase what is positive (well-being). Personally, I think we'd have far more of a positive effect if we actually focussed on what makes children flourish in the first place.

If you have any views on this, I'd love to hear them.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

The Happy List

Did you see the Independent on Sunday's 'Happy List' today? It's a good antidote to the Sunday Times' Rich List, a refreshing change from focussing on how many billions Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal is worth this year*.

The criteria for appearing in the IOS Happy List are:

1) you have to make the lives of strangers happier,

2) making strangers happier is the prime motive in doing what you do (as opposed to a side-effect of it), and

3) the example you set deserves celebrating.

I think the results are a bit of a mixed bag to be honest; I'm not sure all of those on the list actually match these criteria....

One person who should be at the top of the list in my opinion is Camila Batmanghelidjh, the founder and director of Kids Company, a London charity which looks after vulnerable inner city kids and young people. The aim of Kids Company is to return children to their childhood. Now that really is worth celebrating.

If the IOS repeats the Happy List in 2009, I wonder if any Positive Psychologists will be making an appearance...!

I'd be interested in hearing whether you can think of other people who should be on the list - if so why not let the IOS know? Perhaps they can be included next year.

* [It's £27.7 billion - he's the world's fourth richest man. To put his fortune in perspective, he's richer than the Sultan of Brunei and only ~£1bn behind Bill Gates].

Image: Joe Schlabotnik

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Positive Psychology in Business

This month my Positive Psychology News Daily article focuses on the problem of applying Positive Psychology in business.

At the moment there are only about a dozen or so validated interventions (i.e. exercises which are scientifically 'proven' to increase your well-being); all of them are common sense/what your grandmother knew; none of them are rocket-science. They're all suitable for use in 1:1 therapy and coaching situations, but are they suitable in business? There are very few interventions being tested in businesses, and anyway, application is more of an art than a science.

I think we need to build up a knowledge base of case studies of how PP is being applied in organisational contexts, and what the effects are, in order for businesses to be persuaded that Positive Psychology has many tangible benefits worth considering.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Money, Happiness, Time

I really liked this article from Australia's Herald Sun yesterday, about the relationship between money and happiness. As you'd expect from that part of the world, it gets straight to the point; over a certain amount, money doesn't make you happier.

The article suggests that what people who work hard really want is more time, and advises that the way to create more time is to 'outsource' all the jobs that someone else can do for you more cheaply than you can do them yourself. OK, that's logical to me so far. But then it goes on to say that you should use the extra time you've created through outsourcing to "focus all your energy on bringing home the bacon.....After you've hit the economics of enough, money has little use, other than as a tool to allow you the economic advantage of creating the life you want with the limited time you have left".

Hmmm? Run that one by me again?

Surely if time is so precious the last thing you want to be spending it doing is more work? Unless, of course, you're absolutely passionate about your work, and have the kind of job that you'd do even if you weren't paid at all. Which is really my point - wouldn't it be better to find a job that you enjoy doing, where you can use your strengths every day, and which brings out the best in you? It might sound a bit pie-in-the-sky, but it's perfectly possible for the vast majority of people to achieve this with a little coaching support. You just need to know what your strengths are.

Thanks to Viv T for the article

Image source: bogenfreund

Sunday, 23 March 2008

The Politics of Happiness

In this article last year I mentioned that the tiny Himalayan country of Bhutan pioneered the measurement of well-being with its Gross National Happiness index.

Now Bhutan is in the news again because tomorrow it will hold its first-ever democratic elections. This could be seen as a test of how serious the two main political parties and their supporters are about happiness, or whether, when they have the opportunity, they put economic growth first.

The head of Bhutan's planning commission suggests that happiness and economic growth are not incompatible, but nevertheless, observers are right to acknowledge that economic growth will have consequences, not all of them positive. But perhaps the Bhutanese know enough about well-being to be wise to the negative effects of materialism.

Whatever the result of the elections, it will be interesting to watch how democracy unfolds in Bhutan in the next few weeks and months.

Image: Babasteve

Thursday, 20 March 2008

More on Money and Happiness

No wonder Jo(e) Public is confused about money and happiness. Here's an article from the UK broadsheet, the Telegraph, also published today with the headline 'Money does not buy happiness'. This seems to conflict with what I wrote in this post....

So can money buy you happiness or not?

Well, even with a scientific subject like Positive Psychology, the answer is never as clear-cut as you might expect!

We're told that income has increased dramatically over the past 40 to 50 years, and that the increase in well-being hasn't kept pace, therefore we must be doing something wrong.

But they haven't mentioned the fact that it's normal for humans to adapt to most positive experiences, such that after a while they lose their edge. It's what we mean when we say the novelty has worn off. If you don't believe me, think back to the last time you got a pay rise and work out exactly how long it took you to get used to the extra cash.

Secondly, it's also the case that as our quality of life increases, so do our expectations. Fifty years ago not every household would have had a phone, a TV and a car. Today these items are considered basic items; one family might expect to own one if not several of them. So what we think we need to live a happy life increases too.

Thirdly, it has been suggested that the rise in income over the past fifty years (in the UK at least) hasn't been distributed equally, i.e. a very small proportion of people have become incredibly wealthy, whilst the vast majority of us have enjoyed far smaller increases or none at all.

The Telegraph article concludes by saying that the reason we're not as happy as we might expect is because we spend more time at work and less time doing the things we enjoy. Even that's contentious. Some studies suggest that in general in developed countries we actually have more leisure time than ever before. Therefore it's what we choose to do with our time that affects our happiness. Watching more and more TV, which seems to be a common leisure time trend in the West, is a sure-fire way to waste the time we could be using to do things which will make a difference to our well-being.

If you have any concrete examples of money buying happiness (as opposed to security or health for example) we'd like to hear about them.

Image: QuietLucid

Money can buy you happiness...

...but not in the way you might think.

Positive Psychologists are often quoted as saying that after a certain point, more money can't make you significantly happier, implying that there's no point in busting a gut to get that next bonus or promotion.

This article however reports the findings of a recent study by the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School, which shows that spending your money on other people makes you happier than spending it on yourself.

Not convinced? Well, I'm happy to be the recipient of your largesse if you want to try it out!

Image: Material Boy

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

The Cost of Ill-health and Happiness

The cost of ill-health to the British economy is a staggering £103 billion a year according to a recent report from Professor Dame Carol Black, National Director for Health and Work. This article from today's spiked suggests that the government's attempts to get the unemployed back to work by e.g. re-branding "Incapacity Benefit" as "Employment and Support Allowance", is merely tinkering at the edges. I'm inclined to agree. Other carrot-and-stick measures such as tougher health tests for those claiming IB and requiring doctors to intervene sooner are unlikely to be successful and will instead just create more expensive targets and measures to be monitored and circumvented, in the same way that hospital waiting lists have been.

The article quotes one professor of psychiatry, Simon Wessely, as saying that many normal human experiences are being medicalised; for example feeling sadness after a bereavement is now seen as a health "problem" for which there should be a medical cure. People are encouraged to think of negative emotions as something can and should be avoided - take the frequency with which counselling is offered after traumatic events for example, even though there is growing scientific evidence that most people heal better and more quickly without it.

Off hand I don't know how the UK compares to other European countries regarding the true cost of ill-health (if anyone reading this does, let me know!). I agree with Mick Hume that the answer lies not in treating the entire problem as one of ill-health (and certainly not in the ways the government proposes), rather we need to be looking more seriously at the underlying causes. If it is the case that many of those people on IB should really be at work, the question is why they prefer to claim state benefits rather than make a meaningful contribution to society. That is a much deeper issue.

Once again I'm left thinking that those of us with an interest in Positive Psychology and the science behind happiness need to ensure we talk about the benefits of PP in business without it sounding like we inhabit cloud-cuckoo land.

Image: Lindseyy

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Happiness Lessons in Schools

Here's an interesting article from the Guardian about the argument for and against teaching happiness lessons in schools.

You can see why Anthony Seldon, head of Wellington College (one of the most elite schools in the UK) is so keen that kids get something more than the National Curriculum, since it will hardly prepare them for the adult world in the 21st Century after all. But teaching them Positive Psychology doesn't fill Richard Schoch with confidence, largely because he says you can't measure meaning and engagement, which are the holy grail of happiness. He thinks there is a place for well-being in the classroom, but doesn't really have any suggestions about how to teach it, other than getting kids to read ancient texts.


I'm not sure that's the answer either!

The really interesting question is why we feel that children need to be taught about happiness in the first place. Some people (including Seldon) have argued that kids are more prone to depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses than in the past. So teaching them various life skills will help them survive these issues. If that's the case, shouldn't we be asking ourselves what is causing them to be more prone to depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses in the first place, and try to do something to fix that?

According to Schoch, Positive Psychology is a bit like Marmite, i.e. you either love it or you hate it. The challenge for Positive Psychologists is how to persuade its critics that it's a useful subject which can make a positive difference to how people choose to live their lives. I'm not sure it's succeeding in that aim at the moment. What do you think?

You can read the original debate between Seldon and sociologist Frank Furedi here.

Friday, 29 February 2008

Have you got the Happiness Habit?

In my recent posting on Positive Psychology and Coaching I referred to Sonja Lyubomirsky's new book, "The How of Happiness".

The video clip from 20/20 is a great intro to the science behind the book. The case of the identical twins is fascinating isn't it?

On Tuesday I was fortunate enough to take part in a telephone seminar with Professor Lyubomirsky, in which she outlined the key messages from the book. The things which I found most interesting were:

1) that happiness takes effort - i.e. you need to be prepared to work at it; it may not come naturally

2) according to Lyubomirsky, you need to ensure that you choose the strategies which you're comfortable with. Some may not be your cup of tea. She readily admits to finding the Gratitude exercise difficult. If that's the case try something else.

3) whatever strategies you find work for you need to become habits - things that you do on a regular basis without thinking about it, like cleaning your teeth twice a day. How will you get the happiness habit?

4) some of the strategies which have been empirically validated, like gratitude, savouring and acts of kindness, may sound corny and trivial, but they do work. Plus, you have nothing to lose by trying them for a few weeks.

Let us know how you get on with her 'Person/Activity Fit' diagnostic tool (p73) and the various strategies you choose as a result.

Thanks to Christine Duvivier for the links.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Positive Psychology and Coaching

My MAPP colleagues and I were discussing the number of books on happiness being published at the moment: Lyubomirsky's "The How of Happiness" is the latest. Great book, shame about the sunny yellow cover...

Is it possible, we wondered, to broadcast the important positive psychology research findings, i.e. the ones that might make a difference to the way people live their lives, without it being accused of being merely happiology, or moralistic? For example, research tells us (if our grandmothers haven't already) that earning large amounts of money doesn't make a significant difference to our happiness levels. It also shows that building strong relationships (with friends and family, between generations, in the community and at work) is one of the most important things we can do to improve our well-being. Yet the vast majority of us still act like money is the be all and end all.

It's a difficult call, we concluded, especially when the media the world over insists on calling it happiology, as this recent article from PressTV in Tehran illustrates.

Choosing the right Positive Psychology interventions

We also discussed whether Lyubomirsky's emphasis (Chapter 3) on the importance of choosing activities to fit your lifestyle was useful or not. If, as a coach, you leave it up to the client to choose their own interventions, the chances are they won't go for the ones which look too simple, such as keeping a gratitude diary, yet activities like this can have a profound effect.

Opting for more difficult ones (such as meditation) straight off might need a great deal more perseverance. It's worth discussing these potential difficulties with your client before deciding what approach to take. Experienced coach and trainer, Lucy Ryan, suggests advising clients to try the simple interventions first - they have nothing to lose, and a great deal to gain, after all.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Which careers provide the least job satisfaction?

In response to Yang-May's question about which jobs were at the bottom of the happiness and satisfaction league tables, here's the information according to the American General Social Surveys* (GSS) carried out between 1998 and 2006:

The question asked was 'On the whole, how satisfied are you with the work you do - would you say you are very satisfied, moderately satisfied, a little dissatisfied, or very satisfied?'

The mean score ranges from 1 (very dissatisfied) to 4 (very satisfied).

The same survey also asked about general happiness:

The question asked was 'Taken all together, how would you say things are these days -would you say you are very happy, pretty happy or not too happy?'

The mean score ranges from 1 (not too happy) to 3 (very happy).

The survey results reveal that the least happy and least satisfied are those people doing unskilled manual or service jobs, including customer service assistants and people who handle complaints.

Research suggests that job satisfaction and well-being are less to do with salary or status of a job, and more to do with how much control you have over the job you do. Even though the amount of stress you experience tends to increase as you rise through the ranks, so too does your autonomy, and is it this, or the lack of it, which affects your sense of well-being and satisfaction.

What's interesting is that even the lowest scores aren't really that bad....

If you have any further thoughts or comments on these survey results, we'd love to hear them.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Which careers provide the most job satisfaction?

According to the American General Social Surveys* (GSS) carried out between 1998 and 2006, the top 10 careers which provide the most job satisfaction are as follows:

The question asked was 'On the whole, how satisfied are you with the work you do - would you say you are very satisfied, moderately satisfied, a little dissatisfied, or very satisfied?'

The mean score ranges from 1 (very dissatisfied) to 4 (very satisfied).

The same surveys also asked about general happiness:

The question asked was 'Taken all together, how would you say things are these days -would you say you are very happy, pretty happy or not too happy?'

The mean score ranges from 1 (not too happy) to 3 (very happy).

This reveals that the most satisfying jobs are mostly professions, especially those involving caring for, teaching, and protecting others as well as the creative pursuits. Since people's feelings about their work usually have a significant impact on their general happiness, it's not surprising that some of the same professions appear in the Top 10 for general happiness too.

It's interesting that the clergy appear top of both tables, suggesting that finding meaning in your work is a crucial part of both job satisfaction and happiness. Psychologists Judge, Thoresen, Bono and Patton (2001) have shown that job satisfaction and performance are correlated. According to Wrzesniewski (2003), if jobs which give people meaning (for example because they make a contribution to the wider world) are linked to high job satisfaction, and job satisfaction is linked to work performance, people who find meaning in their work are more likely to perform better than those who don't. So it's in the interests of all organisations to help employees create meaning in their work.

Incidentally, the bottom occupation for job satisfaction in this survey was roofing, which unfortunately was 2nd bottom for general happiness too- only 25% of roofers said they were very satisfied with their jobs and only 14% were very happy...

*The General Social Survey which has been conducted since 1972, collects basic information from across the United States in order to monitor social trends. The GSS is based on interviews of randomly selected people who represent a scientifically accurate cross section of Americans. A total of 27,587 people were interviewed for the job satisfaction and happiness section of the survey.

My thanks to Rochelle Melander for this information.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Choice and Well-being

Doing some research today I stumbled upon this lecture 'The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less' by a leading expert on choice and its relationship to well-being, Barry Schwartz.

According to Schwartz, Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College, a little choice is good for you, it can increase your sense of control, but contrary to what we might logically think, having more choice is not better. In fact having too many options to choose from causes a number of problems such as:

* the inability to make a decision at all,
* making a bad decision,
* opportunity cost - worrying about 'the one that got away',
* expecting perfection - and getting disappointed instead.

All of these decrease your sense of satisfaction and well-being.

I'm sure you can relate this to your personal lives, but what about the world of work? Schwartz quotes six companies which are already applying the 'paradox of choice' principles in their businesses:

* Procter & Gamble (who also featured in this posting)
* CostCo
* Trader Joe's
* Tesco
* Aldi
* Greek Diners in NYC

According to Schwartz, these companies are already wise to the risk that the customer may choose nothing if faced with too many options, therefore they deliberately offer a more limited selection than they could otherwise do.

It's an interesting dilemma to be facing, whatever industry you're in, and it's one that's going to get increasingly relevant as consumers become more affluent.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

The Benefit of Saying "Thank You"

Have you written your thank-you letters for all the gifts you received this Christmas?

You might be interested to know that there's been a great deal of research into the benefits of gratitude; grateful people, for example, report higher levels of life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and positive emotions, as well as lower levels of depression and stress*. I've talked about gratitude in several postings before, covered new ways of expressing gratitude, and looked specifically at Peterson's 10 minute exercise to increase your well-being by identifying the things you're thankful for.

This 30 minute BBC Radio 4 programme today explores the subject both for those people expressing their thanks, and for the people being thanked. It's well worth listening to for some real-life insight into the research.

* McCullough, Emmons & Tsang (2002)

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Poetry in the Boardroom

A few weeks ago I wrote about the role of Leadership, Positive Psychology and Creativity. Here's some more "Boardroom Poetry", this time from Ralph Windle, a.k.a. Bertie Ramsbottom. I particularly liked the boardroom ballad called 'The Business Consultant' and his profile of Sir John Harvey-Jones**, 'Born Again'. Plus it was a joy to re-read Betjeman's ' A Subaltern's Love Song* which it parodies.

* Incidentally, while I was googling Betjeman, I came across many other spoofs, this one celebrating York University's 40th Anniversary in 2003.

** 11/01/08 Sadly now the late Sir John Harvey-Jones. It'd be interesting to revisit his Troubleshooter TV series from the 90s, to see what became of the companies who were brave enough to call him in.....