Dr Tal Ben-Shahar – Harvard Open Courses 1504 – Positive Psychology 4

This session continues talking about the basic premises, specifically focusing on (a) how change happens, (b) Internal factors primarily determine happiness, and (c) human nature must be obeyed.

I enjoyed watching this session very much. Firstly, Tal’s explanation of our base levels of happiness makes a lot of sense to me. Beyond the basic needs (food, shelter, basic education), external circumstances makes very little difference on our levels of well-being. I recalled my own experience, for instance, got an offer from a good university, got a job offer after an interview, passed my PhD viva, received my driving licence, got the key to my first house, received a reward from the employer, experienced a break-up, lost my beloved grandparents etc., indeed, for not long I went back to my base level of well-being.

Secondly, I had the same view of “people are unhappy is because they have high expectations”, they expect too much. Tal states that the problem is right versus wrong expectations rather than high or low expectations matters. This leads me to quest how do we know it’s a right or wrong expectation? Tal adds “the right expectation is to believe in change from within… our readiness and potential to experience happiness is mostly depended on our state of mind…it’s about changing our interpretation of the world, of what’s happening to us, of our achievement, of our failure. It’s about what we choose to perceive, what we choose to focus on. It’s about transformation.

Thirdly, human nature is constrained. We stopped giving ourselves the permission to be human. Indeed, the paradoxical intentions! The harder I try to get rid of some thought or behaviour, the stronger it seems to become. Rejecting our nature leads to sub-optimal performance.

Fourthly, meditation. Simply focus on breath.

Interesting research findings:

  • Studying the best and applying it the the rest of us is actually about democratizing excellence.
  • One of the most significant barriers to people doing things in the world, to actually introducing change is that they underestimate their ability to bring about change.
  • All change begins in the mind of single people or a small group and then it expands.
  • The Butterfly EffectChange happens exponentially
  • The six degrees of separation – how are we all connected or intra-connected.
  • The nature of exponential function – social networks – smiles and laugh are contagious 
  • A lot of research shows how difficult it is to change happiness based on external factors.
  • In general, external factors such as accident, place of residents, income level, lottery, promotion make very little difference to our well-being. One external circumstance does matters is democracy versus oppression.
  • The ‘great deception’ leads to the great depression.
  • The ABC – Affect, Behaviour, and Cognition

People and their work:

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, Serge Moscovici, Margaret Mead – social science research – minority can make difference
  • Richie Davidson – meditation and brain changes
  • Joshua Green – morality and brain
  • Daniel Guilbert – the base level of happiness
  • Philip Bickman – the base level of well-being
  • Ed Diener – happiness level – wealth matters very little to our levels of well-being
  • Thomas Sowell – human nature
  • Constrained vision – Alexander Halmiton, Adam Smith, Ayn Rand, Friedrich Hayek, Edmund Burke, Francis Bacon – Our nature is constrained, it’s limited. Nature to be commanded must be obeyed whether it’s psychical nature or human nature. – We may not like it, but it is what it is. We cannot change it. Let’s make the best of it and channel it toward the good.
  • Unconstrained vision – Thomas Jefferson, Jean-jacques Rousseau, George Bernard Shaw, Ronald Dworkin, Benjamin Constant – Human nature can be improved. It can be changed. We can perfect it. – Let’s change it.
  • Daniel Wagner – ironic processing – when we suppress a natural phenomenon, that phenomenon only strengthens.
  • Viktor Frankl – paradoxical intentions
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