Dr Tal Ben-Shahar – Harvard Open Courses 1504 – Positive Psychology 8

This session is about benefit finders and gratitude.

Benefit finders are psychological and psychical healthier and happier. They found the benefits when they experience bad things, not for the best, but they made the best of the things that happen.

Question 1: “Why not everyone is optimistic?”
Answers: Optimists are considered detached. (1) The media focuses on negative news and highlights them, how can we be positive in the world like this? ‘Focus’ creates reality. The media needs to focus on positive news equally. When we constantly hear bad news or bad chatter in our mind, what happens on us? We create negative reality. (2) To ignore the good and focus mostly on the bad is that we adapt. We adapt to the common, we stop seeing it after a while, whereas the bad, the exception, always captures our attention. We are “change detectors” and we adapt. However, when we adapt, we take things for granted.

Question 2: “How can we become more optimistic?”
Answers: Switching our focuses and really appreciation are important in changing our internal schema. If we learn gratitude as a way of life, if we cultivate the habit of gratitude, we can cultivate benefit finding.

I remember when I was a child, my sisters and I would prepare shows for parents and grandparents to thank their love and care. However, since we all left home, this has been replaced by regular phone calls and visits. Chinese people tend to do things to express their appreciation rather than to use words to express it. I realised the power of speaking out grateful words as important as the grateful actions since I lived in the UK. However, when I said thanks to my sisters, they responded something like ‘why are you so polite to me?’ They take doing things for family and friends for granted. Anyway, I still say it because I have realised how I adapted my life over the past and how I sometimes took things for granted.

Tal’s talking about gratitude encourages me a lot. I have started to practise it on my notebook over two months now. I changed the way of my diary, not only write down things that bothers me, or things I don’t know whom I can talk to, but also write down more things that make me happy and feel lucky to have, without analysing. I used to analyse things too much.

Tal’s story about his grandmother at the end of the session made me cry. It reminds me the stories my grandparents and parents had told me. I always say we are lucky to be born in this generation. Yes, it’s a beautiful world!

Interesting research findings:

People and their work:

  • Suzanne Thompson – differences between benefit finders and fault finders among people who lost their homes
  • Gleen Affleck – positive thinking in heart attack patients
  • Julienne Bauer – benefit finders in AIDS patients
  • Laura King and Kathi N. Miner – benefit finders in people who experienced traumas and women who had cancer.
  • Thomas Hobbes
  • Albert Bandura – a simple sentence of appreciation can give people strength to go on
  • Oprah Winfrey – what you focus on expends
  • G.K. Chesterson – gratitude produces the most purely joyful moments.
  • Brother David Steindl‑Rast’s book A Good Day: A Gift of Gratitude
  • Irvin Yalom’s research on terminal diseased people – the value of gratitude
  • Robert Emmons’ book Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier. His and Michael McCullough’s research based on comparing write five things (grateful, bothered, things you are good at, random anything) everyday.
  • Ellen Langer – mindfulness as creating novel distinctions.
  • Stephen Kosslyn – kids actually visualise most words.
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