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The benefits of sharing happy news

Smiles all round: why sharing happy news is good for you and everyone you know

Lea Waters, University of Melbourne

I have some good news for you: happiness is contagious and affects the happiness of others with whom you are connected.

That’s right - according to recent research by the University of Pennsylvania - making yourself and those around you happy is not only possible, but really quite easy. All you have to do, quite literally, is spread the word.

Titled What Makes Online Content Viral?, the study tracked the circulation of almost 7000 articles from the New York Times over a three-month period and found that positive articles were shared more often than negative ones.

Similar studies of online behaviour also suggest we’re more likely to use words like “happy, love, nice and sweet” online than “worried, hurt, sad and ugly” and that we share our positive daily experiences 70% of the time.

These studies form part of a veritable swathe of research into the way moods and emotions spread between people linked through online social networks. According to a two-decade long study conducted by researchers at University of California, San Diego, happiness is not only highly contagious but online communities may actually “magnify the intensity of global emotional synchrony”.

In research carried out at Tübingen University, scientists who tracked the emotional responses of Facebook users in Germany and the US found that reading other people’s positive posts triggered happiness in 64% of people.

Think of it this way: Your good news positively influences your friends, who in their turn positively influence their friends. With one positive post you can brighten up the day of someone you have never met.

On the flip side, however, negative emotions spread through networks too. In an online social network study in the US using data from millions of Facebook users, rainfall was found to negatively affect the emotional content of people’s status updates, and this influenced the negativity of posts made by friends in other cities who were not experiencing rainfall. Negativity, it showed, begets negativity.

Sharing your positive news also, research suggests, has direct perks for you. Communicating a positive experience you have had with another person heightens the impact of the positive experience itself because you get to re-live and re-savour the experience.

When researchers from four universities across the United States partnered with eharmony they found that sharing positive news between partners boosted happiness and life satisfaction. As Virginia Wolf so eloquently states: “Pleasure has no relish unless we share it”.

Understanding the impact good - and bad - news can have on our moods is important for many reasons. In the midst of a 24/7 news cycle dominated by stories about violence, war, natural disasters and corruption - think of the old media adage “if it bleeds, it leads” - it’s little wonder people report depression and worry after watching nightly news bulletins.

The reaffirming aspect of this research is that it shows we want to hear good news and we are using social media as a medium to create and disseminate it.

Further evidence for this desire for uplifting news can be found in the burgeoning of websites such as Positive News, which since being established in July has become the world’s first crowdfunded global media cooperative. The paper is now owned by 1526 readers, journalists and supporters.

Another example is the Real Life Heroes series by KST TV on YouTube, along with sites including Good News Network, Joy News Network, Daily Good, HuffPost Good news, Oh My Goodness, Positive News, Sunny Skyz and Gimundo.

So, how can you go about sharing good news? You can visit the sites above and share their positive stories with others. You can commit yourself to writing more positive posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and sharing more good news in person. You can start your own way to share and spread positive news.

I have recently used my twitter account (@ProfLeaWaters) to set up a Positive Detective campaign and asked my network to spot examples of positive qualities in others. I wake up every day to a new positive tweet and so do all of those in my network. It is an easy and effective way to get some positive emotional therapy.

Sharing your good news might seem like a small gesture but it can have a big effect and provide people with a life raft in the sea of negativity that is often mainstream media. Isn’t it time we steered our own boat?

This piece is based on a talk presented at TEDxMelbourne. To listen, visit here.

Lea Waters, Professor, Gerry Higgins Chair in Positive Psychology, Director of the Centre for Positive Psychology, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Positive psychology

Explainer: what is positive psychology and how can you use it for yourself?

Peggy Kern, University of Melbourne

Many people have probably heard the term “positive psychology”, but know little about what it means in practice. Positive psychology aims to find ways to make life better for people, and ensure they’re the most mentally healthy person they can be. The Conversation

Officially established in 1998, positive psychology is a relative new field. It has quickly become popular among researchers, and blogs about happiness and well-being are now commonplace.

Positive psychology suggests that getting rid of sickness, disability, depression, crime and the other problems of life is important, but not enough. People should be able to not just survive life, but to thrive and enjoy it. Positive interventions are being brought into schools and workplaces to help people feel good and be more productive.

Emphasis on preventing mental health problems

Mental health problems are increasing in Australia. Around 20% of Australia’s population is diagnosed with a mental illness, while depression is one of the biggest causes of disability around the world.

The typical approach for dealing with mental illness is to wait until a person shows signs of disorder, then provide treatment. This is like taking your car to the shop when it stops working. But in the same way a lot of car troubles can be avoided through regular maintenance, positive psychology posits that by proactively taking care of one’s mental health, mental illness can be prevented, or at least be less severe.

By focusing on building a person’s internal strengths and helping people recognise and connect with resources around them, such as friends and family, they are better able to deal with challenges and enjoy life as a whole.

One way this prevention model is being put into practice is by teaching students about well-being, resilience, character strengths, emotions, social relationships, and similar skills.

Education about trauma nurtures well-being for students from challenging backgrounds. By developing healthy habits early, we hope students will be more resilient in the future – although the long-term impact of such programs is unknown. Some work also applies the ideas of positive psychology to clinical settings to help treat depression.

Similarly, by regularly engaging in positive activities, you can help build mental fitness and keep yourself mentally healthy.

Some misconceptions

A major misconception is that positive psychology is positive thinking: that if you think good thoughts, they will come about. Although positive psychology suggests being optimistic about the future is beneficial, good things will only happen if you actively do things to make them come about. It’s what people actually do that matters, not simply what they think.

While positive psychology focuses a lot on building positive emotions, such as joy, excitement, contentment and calmness, it doesn’t deny the reality of negative emotions and experiences. Emotions are part of what makes us human. However, there is often a natural tendency to focus too much on the negatives of life, so there is value in shifting that focus more to the positive side.

Positive psychology is different from self-help in that it uses techniques based on rigorous psychological research. Different interventions are tested to see whether or not they have an impact.

However, positive psychology is not a silver bullet. Many of the interventions were developed and tested by Americans. These approaches might not work well for Australians or for people from other cultures and backgrounds.

We’re still trying to find out what works best, for whom, and under what conditions. There’s still a lot we don’t know. So beware of claims about “proven ways” to be happy. 

How to practise it yourself

If you want to learn how to practise positive psychology yourself, numerous activities and tools are available.

It can be useful to get a sense of your own well-being as a starting point. I’ve developed a survey that measures your emotions, engagement in life, relationships with others, sense of meaning and purpose, feelings of accomplishment, and physical health. These indicators can give you insight into your well-being in different facets of your life.

Based on this assessment, the survey also offers some activities you can do to start building your well-being. Just like a medical checkup, it can point to areas you might want to work on.

Knowing and using your strengths also relates to greater well-being. The Values in Action survey can identify your character strengths, such as creativity, curiosity, leadership, kindness and social intelligence.

You can also actively cultivate the ability to more consistently shift your focus and perspective
in a positive direction. For example, ending each day by noting a few things that went well during the day creates a habit of noticing and appreciating good things that happen. Regularly practising this may help counteract natural biases to
ruminate on what went wrong, or worry about tomorrow.

You can also intentionally add more positive emotions to your everyday life by ensuring that, each day, you take part in simple activities that make you feel good.

Cultivating and nurturing positive relationships is essential for your mental health and well-being. It’s important to build and maintain good relationships in as many facets of your life as possible: this includes your relationships with family members, friends and coworkers.

Making it a habit to thank others for things they do can help build good relationships. Another idea is to do kind acts for others. Such activities will help them feel good, be a better friend to you, and help develop a strong support network.

Positive psychology can benefit people at different stages on the mental health spectrum, but if you are really struggling it’s important to get help. Talk to friends, family or your doctor.

Peggy Kern, Senior Lecturer in Positive Psychology, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original

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Savouring

Savouring is being mindfully aware of your feelings during pleasant experiences, and deliberately doing something to either amplify or extend your enjoyment of those experiences. We can savour experiences from the past (e.g. reminiscence), present (e.g. savouring the moment), or the future (e.g. anticipation).

Fred Bryant is a social psychologist at Loyola University Chicago, and is considered the father of research on savouring. He describes savouring as similar to “....tasting the goodness [in a positive moment]…you can swish it around like a fine wine in your mind, and you could sip it or gulp it,” and his research has shown links between savouring and high levels of life satisfaction, self-esteem, optimism, and frequency of happiness. A research team in Belgium also found that using a variety of savouring strategies can be more beneficial to overall happiness than just using a few specific strategies.

In their 2006 book Savoring: A new model of positive experience, Bryant and co-author Joseph Veroff describe 10 concise ways that we can develop our savouring skills.

Sharing with others

One of the first things we like to do when we get good news, is to share it with someone who’s important to us, such as a partner, close friend, or family members.

Research has shown that when we capitalize on positive experiences by sharing them with someone, well-being and positive emotions are increased, over and above the impact of the positive event. And when we perceive that others respond positively and constructively to our good news, the benefits are multiplied.

Memory building

This can be as simple as pausing for a moment to take a mental photograph (or an actual photograph) of something that we want to remember later, such as a heart-warming moment between loved ones, or the sound of their laughter.

We can include savouring moments in our daily activities, such as consciously looking for good things while taking a walk.

Self-congratulation

It’s a good idea to savour your successes by giving yourself a pat on the back and taking credit for your hard work.

Self-congratulation is not encouraged in all cultures, particularly Eastern ones, where it is more customary to downplay personal achievements. Self-congratulation may also feel somewhat challenging for people who have humility as one of their signature strengths, so even giving yourself a small mental nod of appreciation is still flexing your savouring muscles.

As with any positive psychological activity, you can choose the ones that resonate with you.

Sensory-perceptual sharpening

Honing-in on your sensory experiences, or using your senses more consciously, is another way to develop your savouring skills.

One of the easiest ways to do this is when you’re eating. Slow down during meals and really focus on the food – smell the aromas, really look at your food, close your eyes when you are eating.

This technique can also be applied to other sensory experiences, e.g. closing your eyes while smelling a fine wine, enjoying a massage or warm bath, or listening to music.

Comparing

We can boost our positive feelings by making ‘downward’ comparisons. For example, if you are feeling stressed at work, remind yourself that you DO have a job, or think of those who may not have a job.

Absorption

Research suggests that people get the most enjoyment from experiences when they allow themselves to become totally absorbed in the task or in the moment. This also often involves losing your sense of time and place, and is a state that psychologists refer to as “flow” – you are completely immersed in what you are doing.

Children are naturally adept at this, but as adults, we tend to multitask and get distracted by things going on around us.

Behavioural expression

This can be as simple as smiling or laughing when something good happens, or something more exuberant like jumping for joy! Outwardly expressing your positive feelings can give the mind evidence that something good has happened.

Temporal awareness

Being mindful of how quickly time flies, and remembering to savour the good moments as they’re happening can help you to enjoy them even more.

We can savour positive experiences from the past, by recreating a happy moment with our imagination. We can also savour future positive experiences by imagining something good happening or anticipating something we’re looking forward to.

Counting blessings

There are many opportunities for us to take a moment and appreciate something good in our lives. We can express to our loved ones how blessed we feel to have them, or we can take time to appreciate a delicious meal before eating. Even expressing our enjoyment of a beautiful day out loud helps to affirm our positive feelings and savour them.

Avoiding kill-joy thinking

Avoiding or transforming negative thinking is just as important as thinking positively.

We can do this by savouring the positive aspects of a situation, or by cultivating optimistic thinking. We can also take a step back from our troubles and take a “big picture” view of the situation, reminding ourselves that whatever it is will pass, and in a month, six months, or a year from now, we may not even remember the upset.

Wise savouring does so in a way that hurts no-one, and helps the individual and broadens social relationships -- Fred Bryant