Dr Tal Ben-Shahar – Harvard Open Courses 1504 – Positive Psychology 9

This session continues focusing on ‘gratitude’ and moves on to ‘change’.

To be a benefit finder, we do not only need to understand the importance of gratitude, but also need to do it, to practise it and to experience it. How do we maintain the gratefulness? It’s by being mindful, by thinking about those wonderful things that we have. Expressing gratitude to others is a win-win approach.

Most questions we asked ourselves are “What’s wrong?” “what needs to be improved?” “What are my weaknesses?” They are important but not enough. If we ask also right question such as “What I am graceful for?” That in and of itself creates a new reality.

How do we deal with painful and positive emotions? With the permission to be human, we give ourselves the permission to experience the emotions, the experience the experience. One of the most effective ways to act would be to share that painful experience, to just write it down. That is active acceptance.

Change is hard, but we know change is possible. There are two types of change. The first one is the gradual approach. It takes time. We can enjoy the journey of change as well as the destination. Another one is the acute approach. It happens immediately but it’s not a quick fix. It takes time to prepare.

Interesting research findings:

  • 30% Vietnam vets experienced PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder). Far less people who have been through the holocaust have PTSD. – Tal uses Sonja Lyubomirsky’s research findings to explain it. The distinction between replaying bad experience and talking about bad experience.
  • The twins studies show that happiness is a stochastic phenomenon.
  • Until 1998, the neuro-scientists thought that the brain was essentially fixed; it don’t change after the age of 3. In 1998, it came the concept of neuroplasticity and the concept of neurogenesis. Scientists started to notice that the brain does actually change. The neural pathways are self-reinforcing, just like rivers are.
  • People who have more action on the left side of prefrontal cortex are generally happier and more resilience comparing to people who have more action on the right side of prefrontal cortex.

People and their work:

  • William James – visualise things; it takes about 21 days to change a habit.
  • O’hart Cumin, Tal’s teacher – focused on possibility, wonderful things in the world.
  • Martin Seligman – expressing gratitude to others.
  • Sonja Lyubomirsky – writing gratitude letters contributes to our well-being.
  • Sonja Lyubomirsky – writing down, talking, and thinking about worst experience (ABC), results are writing down has the best effect; writing down, talking, and thinking about happiest experience (ABC), results are writing down has the worst effect. Findings are it has distinction between analysing and replaying. We don’t know why yet, but we analyse bad experience and it helps us towards well-being; we replay good experience and it helps us towards well-being too.
  • Brother David Steindl‑Rast’s book A Good Day: A Gift of Gratitude
  • Galway Kinnel – To live and die in gratefulness if in no other virtue.
  • Marcus Tullius Cicero – Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parents of all others.
  • Helen Keller’s autobiography The Story of My Life
  • Daniel Gilbert – affective forecasting
  • Carol Dweck – neuroplasticity
  • Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People before 1930s, self-help is about character change. After 1930s, it became quick fix. However, people should know there is no quick fix.
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