Jun 23

“Stand Firm” Against Unhelpful Self-Help?

Stand Firm is an exhilarating broadside against the intense modern pressure to do more, be more, to become happier and more productive, and to “find yourself.” Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian

Svend Brinkmann, PhD, is a Danish philosopher and psychologist who believes, according to the publisher of his new book Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze Stand Firmthat “(t)he secret to a happier life lies not in finding your inner self but in coming to terms with yourself in order to coexist peacefully with others.”

A Psychology Today post by Brinkmann spells out his main recommendations. Click on the link for more specifics:

  1. “Cut out the navel-gazing: The more you gaze lovingly at your navel, the worse you will feel. Doctors call it the health paradox…”
  2. “Focus on the negative in your life: We have been told to be positive for decades, but it doesn’t help…”
  3. “Put on your No hat: Saying ‘I don’t want to do that’ conveys strength and integrity…”
  4. “Suppress your feelings…Adults should choose dignity over authenticity.”
  5. “Sack your coach: Coaching and therapy have become ubiquitous development tools in our accelerating culture…”
  6. “Read a novel – not a self-help book…”
  7. “Dwell on the past: If you think things are bad now, just remember that they can always get worse. And probably will…”

Although I support most of the above, I’m putting on my No hat to the idea of sacking your therapist—unless, of course, he or she isn’t helping you.

A sampling of Stand Firm quotes, the first of which are courtesy of the book review by Olivia Goldhill (Quartz):

I believe our thoughts and emotions should mirror the world. When something bad happens, we should be allowed to have negative thoughts and feelings about it because that’s how we understand the world.

Life is wonderful from time to time, but it’s also tragic. People die in our lives, we lose them, if we have only been accustomed to being allowed to have positive thoughts, then these realities can strike us even more intensely when they happen—and they will happen.

And the following Stand Firm quotes come from Sophia Dembling‘s review (Psych Central):

If others can’t be sure I will be the same tomorrow as I am today and was yesterday, then they have no reason to trust me or that I will do what I promise and otherwise live up to my obligations. And if I don’t know my own past, if I don’t try my best to establish a link between yesterday, today and tomorrow, then others have no reason to trust me. If I don’t have what [French philosopher Paul] Ricoeur calls “self-constancy,” then neither I nor others will be able to count on me.

Very few will say out loud that their illness has been awful from start to finish and that they would rather not have had to go through it. A typical book title might be How I Survived Stress — And What It Taught Me, but you’re unlikely to find a book called I’m Still Stressed — It’s an Unending Nightmare. Not only do we suffer stress or illness and eventually die, we’re also supposed to think it’s all so enlightening and rewarding.

Dembling concludes, “[Brinkmann] dishes up this negativity with a wink, while cautioning that adopting the philosophy shouldn’t ‘degenerate into nihilistic pessimism that leads to resignation, ennui or actual depression. Rather, it should lead to you accepting your responsibilities and duties, your lot in life’.”

Jan 06

“You Are Now Less Dumb” by David McRaney

Despite a flippant and self-helpy title, this book is seriously informative. Publishers Weekly, reviewing David McRaney’s You Are Now Less Dumb

In David McRaney‘s 2014 You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself, 15 additional topics to the ones he chose for You Are Not So Smart (2011) are presented.

Publishers Weekly: “The Mississippi-based journalist and blogger ranges far and wide in his explication of various theories of individual and social psychology, in the process shedding light on the personal blind spots that skew reality while also allowing us to navigate it…(P)age after page, readers will be laughing, learning, and looking at themselves in new ways. McRaney is a fine stylist, easily balancing anecdote, analysis, and witty asides.”

Selected Quotes from You Are Now Less Dumb

What should be evident from the studies on the backfire effect is you can never win an argument online. When you start to pull out facts and figures, hyperlinks and quotes, you are actually making the opponent feel even surer of his position than before you started the debate. As he matches your fervor, the same thing happens in your skull. The backfire effect pushes both of you deeper into your original beliefs. Climate scientist John Cook and psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky write in their pamphlet, The Debunking Handbook, “A simple myth is more cognitively attractive than an over-complicated correction.” Multiple lines of research back up this advice.

People who take credit for the times when things go their way but who put the blame on others when they stumble or fall are generally happier people.

Don’t put people, or anything else, on pedestals, not even your children. Avoid global labels such as genius or weirdo. Realize those closest get the benefit of the doubt and so do the most beautiful and radiant among us. Know the halo effect causes you to see a nice person as temporarily angry and an angry person as temporarily nice. Know that one good quality, or a memory of several, can keep in your life people who may be doing you more harm than good. Pay attention to the fact that when someone seems nice and upbeat, the words coming out of his or her mouth will change in meaning, and if that same person were depressive, arrogant, or foul in some other way, your perceptions of those same exact words would change along with the person’s other features.

A belief is not more likely to be accurate just because many people share it.

You can see the proof in an MRI scan of someone presented with political opinions that conflict with her own. The brain scans of a person shown statements that oppose her political stance show that the highest areas of the cortex, the portions responsible for providing rational thought, get less blood until another statement is presented that confirms her beliefs. Your brain literally begins to shut down when you feel your ideology is threatened. Try it yourself. Watch a pundit you hate for fifteen minutes. Resist the urge to change the channel. Don’t complain to the person next to you. Don’t get online and rant. Try to let it go. You will find this is excruciatingly difficult.

The trailer for You Are Now Less Dumb highlights the role of science in making us smarter:

May 09

A Free Course on the “Science of Happiness”

According to The Huffington Post, people are already signing up in large numbers for this coming September’s free MOOC, or massive online open course, offered by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center on how to live a happier life. It’s called “Science of Happiness.”

States the intro to the course description to the “Science of Happiness”: “We all want to be happy, and there are countless ideas about what happiness is and how we can get some. But not many of those ideas are based on science. That’s where this course comes in.”

A video introduction:

The course will be mainly taught by the man central to the above video, psychology professor Dacher Keltner—author of Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life—and neuroscientist Emiliana Simon-Thomas, who’s in charge of Greater Good’s Expanding Gratitude project. Other notables in the field of positive psychology will serve as guest-lecturers.

Professionals wanting CEU’s can register to take the course for a fee.

In the meantime, and from a totally different source, the infographic below also happens to be called “The Science of Happiness”:

How to Be Happy

by WebpageFX.
Explore more visuals like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

Mar 14

International Day of Happiness Is Coming On March 20th

It’s official. In 2012 the United Nations established that March 20th, our first day of spring, will be the International Day of Happiness.

Pharrell, singer of the infectious “Happy”—perhaps you’ve heard it somewhere? everywhere?— has partnered with the UN for this event; thus, you can already go to the 24 Hours of Happy website and see a video of a his “Happy” tune. What I found? A happy guy walking through town, dancing to the “Happy” tune.

Just for fun, I go back and revisit the site. Voila, it’s a gal this time, also dancing in the streets. Just how many “Happy” dancers might be found?

Yup. There’s at least one other. This time it’s a different young woman, and she’s indoors. I suspect I haven’t yet gotten to the bottom of this. Maybe you can.

But, what else can you do, you ask, for International Day of Happiness? Well, you can celebrate differently by seeking out Acts of Happiness.org.

Intentional Acts of Happiness encourage happier lives. And living happy is not just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do for your health, relationships and career success. Overwhelming research proves that your choice to live a happy life impacts your satisfaction with life. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

That’s why we stand in favor of making Acts of Happiness an intentional part of our days.

Not only will sharing Acts of Happiness make us each happier, but we will share happiness with everyone we touch. We can have an active part in changing their lives—for good.

Once you understand the power of happiness, it changes your thinking. You act differently. And interact differently. Happier people lead more satisfied lives. They earn higher incomes. They process stress differently. They rebound faster. They just live better.

You can share the benefits of happiness by simply performing everyday Acts of Happiness. And your Acts of Happiness can cause a ripple of reciprocal acts. Imagine that happening all around the world.

We invite you to join in the adventure of intentionally sharing Acts of Happiness every day.

Another thing worth looking into: Vote on Day of Happiness.net for what makes you happier: “money and stuff” or “happiness and wellbeing.” Hint: 87% are likely to go with the latter. Check out the rest of the site.

Don’t stop there. Participate with Action for Happiness. A previous post will tell you more about this organization and its website.

Or, if you can, try getting a rental or catching a screening of Roko Belic‘s Happy, the award-winning documentary. See this previous post for more info.

For that matter, read these Minding Therapy posts on books about happiness:

My final suggestion for International Day of Happiness? Revel, if you will, in a classic. Snoopy’s very own brief but lively “happy dance”:

Nov 26

“Hardwiring Happiness” by Rick Hanson: Develop Inner Strengths

As with Ruby Wax‘s Sane New World (see yesterday’s post), mindfulness is also featured in the new book of neuropsychologist Rick Hanson. In Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence, the founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom argues that we can develop inner strengths—or “grow flowers in the garden of the mind”—by taking specific steps to appreciate the good experiences of one’s life.

He says our brains act like “Velcro for the bad but Teflon for the good” in that we’re born with a “negativity bias” that makes it harder to learn from positive experiences; hence, our stress, anxiety, worry, etc.

But learning how to develop the less negative mental trends will lead to “experience-dependent neuroplasticity”—your brain structure changes one small step at a time. From a Q & A with Hanson on Amazon:

Hardwiring happiness is not mere positive thinking, which is usually wasted on the brain. It’s about transforming fleeting experiences into lasting improvements in your neural net worth. It usually takes less than half a minute. Any single time you do this won’t change your life. But half a dozen times a day, day after day, you really can gradually change your brain from the inside out.

How exactly do we take in the good and change our brains? HEAL, he says—and this stands for:

  1. Have a positive experience.
  2. Enrich it.
  3. Absorb it.
  4. Link it to negative thoughts and feelings to soothe and eventually replace them.

Focusing on having the kind of positive experience that matches a particular problem you’re having is optimal. For example, he tells Carolyn Gregoire, The Huffington Post, “if you’re worried about a health scare, you need experiences that address this worry — so rather than seeking success or praise at work, you’d want to look for things that gave you a sense of safety or a feeling of wellness.”

He has a few other suggestions from Hardwiring Happiness:

  • Be on your own side. Often we fail to help ourselves in the same way we do for others.
  • Maintain a sense of wonder. Such an attitude helps insert positive moments in the brain.
  • Open your eyes and look around. “I think of attention as the combination of spotlight and vacuum cleaner: it illuminates what it rests upon, and then shuuup! It sucks it into our brain.”

Some Reviews 

Todd B. Kashdan, Ph.D., Associate Professor, George Mason University, author of Curious? “Why should you read this over any other happiness or mindfulness book? Because the prose, stories, and concrete strategies are beautiful, lucid, and most importantly, they work. I cannot remember the last time a book brought me peace of mind as quickly and effectively.”

Jennifer Louden, author of The Woman’s Comfort Book: “Rick Hanson’s new book works practical magic: it teaches you how, in a few seconds, to rewire your brain for greater happiness, peace, and well-being. This is truly a book I wish every human being could read – it’s that important. I hope we’ll soon be saying to each other, in meetings, over coffee, in crowded subway cars: ‘Take in the good?’”

Christopher Germer, Ph.D., Clinical Instructor, Harvard Medical School, author, The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion, co-editor, Mindfulness and Psychotherapy: “Dr. Hanson offers a remarkably simple, yet transformative, approach to cultivating happiness. He provides clear instructions for bringing these insights into challenging areas such as parenting, procrastination, healing trauma, and transforming relationships. This book is a gift, one you will want to read over and over and share with your friends.”