June 15

The five keys to sustainable happiness, according to Sonja Lyubomirsky

Posted by aadsera

Sonja Lyubomirsky has carried out scientific studies that demonstrate that 40% of our sense of well-being is under our control, because it depends on intentional activities we can do on a daily basis. It is clear that increasing happiness for a short time is more or less a simple undertaking. However, achieving a state of enduring happiness is far more difficult. Lyubomirsky proposes five factors that can lead to sustainable happiness:

1. Positive emotion. A basic way to increase happiness is to try to enjoy the many happy moments in life, as they provide joy, pleasantness, curiosity, the states of serenity, vitality, excitement, etc.
2. Optimal timing and variety. Pleasurable states are episodic and occur at irregular intervals. To get the maximum satisfaction from them we must learn to channel them to the right time for our enjoyment. Also, we should practice a variety of leisure activities to avoid falling into a rut.
3. Social support. People usually become part of a network of relationships and social contacts. Happiness also depends largely on the cooperation of others, especially of those with whom we have a strong and significant bond: family, true friends, etc. Emotional support is important.
4. Motivation, effort and commitment. Living with more happiness is also a learning process. For this we need motivation. We must make the decision to conduct a program to be happier, and put in the necessary effort and commit to this long-term goal .
5- Habit. The effort to begin requires a great deal of determination and energy, which can be daunting. Fortunately, new behaviors to increase sustainable well-being end up becoming good habits with repetition and practice. Healthy habits increase well-being in a sustainable manner.

I strongly agree with the five keys that Sonja Lyubomirsky proposes. They are all important, especially social support and motivation, effort and commitment. Often in life, starting and getting going are the hardest parts.

Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The How of Happiness. New York: Penguin Press.

May 23

Why is personality related to subjective well-being?

Posted by aadsera

According to Ed Diener and Richard E. Lucas, there are several groups of theoretical models that explain how and why personality is related to subjective well-being:

1. Temperament models. People have emotional set-points to which they return after experiencing an event, whether positive or negative. That is, set-points act as stabilizing factors.
2. Congruence models. People experience a higher subjective well-being when their personality fits the environment.
3. Cognitive models. The way someone processes information about rewards and positive incentives, more than biological sensitivity to these stimuli, is what determines the degree of subjective well-being.
4. Goal models. Subjective well-being is influenced by the type of goals for which people strive, by the ways in which people try to achieve their goals, and by the success obtained when these goals are met.
5. Emotion socialization models. Through classical conditioning, instrumental learning, imitation, etc., people are taught to detect which emotions are appropriate in each social context. This process of socialization leads people to have stable differences regarding affectivity.

Diener, E., Lucas, R.E. (2003). “Personality and subjective well-being.” In Kahneman, D., Diener, E., Schwarz, N. [Eds.] Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology. (pp 213-229). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

May 01

Well-being and gender differences

Posted by aadsera

Susan Nolen-Hoeksema and Cheryl L. Rusting have done a review of published research on this topic and concluded that women experience and express positive emotions more intensely than men, such as those regarding love, happiness and joy. This is observed in self-report studies and in studies of nonverbal behavior. Women have more expressive faces, look at others more, and employ closer physical distances to others.

The authors ask why this is so. It seems that with regard to positive emotion, the biological differences between men and women (hormones, sex-linked genetic differences, etc.) have little influence. Personality differences (emotional intensity, empathy, coping, type A personality, etc.) seem to be more proven, but this is more remarkable in negative emotions than in positive emotions. Sociocultural variables seem to have more empirical support. The authors propose a comprehensive model that takes this factor into account. Women are socialized to experience and express emotions that show higher levels of affection, dispositional empathy and sensitivity to others. In contrast, men are socialized to not express affection as intensely.

Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Rusting, C.L. (2003). “Gender differencen in well-being.” In Kahneman, D., Diener, E., Schwarz, N. [Eds.] Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology. (pp 330-346). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

April 10

The effort to start an activity and the promotion of well-being

Posted by aadsera

According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, Kennon M. Sheldon and David Schkade (2005), engaging in an activity requires at least two kinds of effort: 1) the effort required to initiate the activity and 2) the effort required to carry out and maintain this activity.

It is obvious that the beneficial effects of both physical and psychologically healthy activities are only obtained if the person first initiates the activity. But starting an activity requires an important effort of self-regulation, self-discipline and willpower. Research indicates that this capacity for self-regulation is like a psychological “muscle” that can be learned to develop. People who have managed to develop this ability to "get started" in pleasant activities have more potential for achieving happiness in life. They are people who choose activities that fit their personality, making it easier to make the effort to start activities.

Getting used to starting activities supposes the practice of executive functions, which depend on the prefrontal areas of the brain. Prefrontal areas are a giant shaft made up of neural connections that in turn regulate other parts of the brain. This neuropsychological integration is one of the pillars of mental health and well-being (Adserá 2013), so it is important to practice this ability to "start and get going" every day.

Lyudomirsky, S., Sheldon, K.M., Schkade, D. (2005). “Pursuing Happiness: The Architecture of Sustainable Change.” Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 111-131.
Adserá, A. (2013). Positive Psychology Therapies. Tarragona: 3Temas.

March 15

Subjective well-being and personality

Posted by aadsera

Ed Diener and Richard E. Lucas consider that one of the most robust and consistent conclusions reached in the field of subjective well-being (SWB) is that the components of SWB are moderately related to personality. The tendency to experience emotions, whether mild or strong, is stable over time. Emotional variability is also stable in the long term.

Reports that people make on their subjective well-being do not reflect arbitrary decisions based on temporary and unstable factors. By contrast, cognitive and affective components of SWB are consistent over time and across situations. This allows them to be reliably predicted based on personality traits. For example, extraversion is moderately correlated with pleasant affect, whereas neuroticism is moderately correlated with unpleasant affect.

This does not mean that personality is the only factor that influences SWB; it only indicates that there is a strong and consistent relation.

Diener, E., Lucas, R.E. (2003). “Personality and subjective well-being.” In Kahneman, D., Diener, E., Schwarz, N. [Eds.] Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology. (pp 213-229). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

February 22

Three psychosocial disturbances that destroy self-esteem

Posted by aadsera

Abraham J. Twerski wrote an interesting book about self-esteem nearly twenty years ago. The title sums it up: Life’s too short! Pull the plug on self-defeating behavior and turn on the power of self-esteem. The second part of the book is dedicated to understanding the problems caused by low self-esteem. Of all these problems, I think it most interesting to stress those involving psychosocial disturbance. They are the following three:

1. Fear of rejection.
2. Need for recognition.
3. Codependency.

If you have a problem, the first step you need to take to fix it is to recognize that you have a problem. These three psychosocial disturbances are difficult, because they give rise to intense unhappiness and prevent being at peace with oneself. If you live unhappily, it’s worth stopping yourself for a moment to do an exercise in self-observation. One has to ask: "Do I have fear of rejection? Do I need constant recognition from others? Do I suffer from codependency?"

Twerski, A.J. (1995). Life’s too short! Pull the plug on self-defeating behavior and turn on the power of self-esteem. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

February 15

The weight of guilt (literally)

Posted by aadsera

There is increasing evidence of how the body affects the mind, especially in relation to emotions and moods. But what is surprising is that affective states in turn influence our perception of bodily sensations. Researchers Martin Day and Ramona Bobocel have published an interesting paper that concludes that guilt causes the sensation of having a physical weight, literally!

In an article published in the journal PLoS ONE, these authors have contributed to understanding how humans perceive guilt. This is important, because guilt plays a role in the regulation of human ethical and moral behavior. Knowing the causes of guilt is also important because when feelings of guilt become irrational, well-being is significantly reduced.

The research involved a group of students who had done something wrong, such as lying. Then, in a later task, they were asked about any feeling of weight on their body, whether they felt heavier or lighter than usual. The results indicated that indeed, recalling having done something unethical gives the person a feeling of having a heaviness in their body. However, negative emotions other than guilt, such as sadness or disgust, do not cause this effect.

This research is included in what is called the "Embodied Theory of Emotion." In short, it seeks to understand how thoughts and emotions interact with the body to guide behavior.

Day, M.V., Bobocel, D.R. (2013). “The Weight of a Guilty Conscience: Subjective Body Weight as an Embodiment of Guilt.” PLoS ONE 8(7): e69546. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069546

January 29

Happiness myths

Posted by aadsera

Sonja Lyubomirsky claims that among the obstacles to increasing happiness are the misconceptions that people have about what makes them happy – myths that are transmitted by culture, social roles, family and friends. Some of these beliefs seem even intuitive and obvious, despite having no scientific basis.

Myth 1: Happiness has to be “found”. It is said that happiness is out there somewhere, waiting for you to find and discover it. This is false for the simple reason that happiness is within us. Happiness is a state of mind, a way of perceiving ourselves.

Myth 2: Happiness is about changing our circumstances. This erroneous belief leads us to say: "I would be happy if ... " or "I'll be happy when ... ". It is a myth that is based on past memories of our life when we were happy before. The reality is that the elements that determined our happiness in the past and can bring happiness in future are still there, within us, waiting to be seized. External circumstances have little effect on long-term well-being.

Myth 3: You either have happiness or you don’t. This myth suggests that one is born happy or unhappy. It is mistakenly believed that unhappiness is genetic and you can’t do anything to change it. But the fact is that, despite personality having a genetic load, its various facets, such as the ability to be happy, can be changed for the better.

Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The How of Happiness. New York: Penguin Press.

December 15

Elements of the Well-Being Theory, by Martin E. P. Seligman

Posted by aadsera

Martin E. P. Seligman, in his new book Flourish, has reformulated his ideas on positive psychology and proposes a new "Well-Being Theory." This theory is based on five elements that encompass everything that people choose freely for their intrinsic value:

1) Positive emotion. Equivalent to the "pleasant life" from his previous theory of authentic happiness. Encompasses all subjective variables that characterize well-being: pleasure, comfort, warmth, etc. They are feelings experienced in the present.
2) Engagement. Equivalent to the "engaged life" from his previous theory of authentic happiness. The subjective state of delivery appears afterwards and is told in retrospect.
3) Meaning. Equivalent to the “meaningful life" from his previous theory of authentic happiness.
4) Accomplishment. People pursue success, achievement, performance and mastery for their own sake, even when this does not provide positive emotions.
5) Relationships. Most of the experiences of well-being are obtained through relationships with other people. Interpersonal connections are the best antidote to hard times in life.

Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish. Atria Books.

November 30

The new Well-Being Theory, by Martin E. P. Seligman

Posted by aadsera

In 2002 Martin E. P. Seligman proposed what he called the "Authentic Happiness Theory." In 2011, in his new book, Flourish, Seligman reformulated his ideas on positive psychology and proposed a new "Well-Being Theory."

Seligman says that the problem with the word happiness is that it has been used so much that its meaning has become blurred to the point of representing a concept that is scientifically impractical. In addition, the monism that the concept of happiness carries with it involves considering that all human motivations can be reduced to a single fundamental. Seligman says we must dissolve the monism of happiness and instead use elements we can work with scientifically. In this new approach, Seligman believes that the core of positive psychology has to revolve around the concept of well-being, which is much more practical.

The new Well-Being Theory no longer focuses on happiness and measuring satisfaction with life, but instead focuses on well-being and measures five components: 1) positive emotion, 2) engagement, 3) meaning, 4) positive relationships, and 5) accomplishment. So, Seligman has opted to add two elements – positive relationships and accomplishment – that relate to success and mastery, and that explain why people try to succeed just for the sake of succeeding.

Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish. Atria Books.