Dr Tal Ben-Shahar – Harvard Open Courses 1504 – Positive Psychology 10

This session is about ‘change’.

There is no quick fix to change. The expectation of quick-fix is one of the reasons why levels of the depression are so high today.

Defined by Tal, perfectionism is debilitating fear for failure, is an attitude to failure.

Three pathways to change: the ABCs and the two types of approaches mentioned in last session. The table below shows how interventions could help us to change.

The gradual approach The acute approach
The A – the affect, the emotion Mindful Meditation A hypothesis – peak experience as a a shock treatment of ecstasy
The B – the behaviour, the action Introduce to change immediately (write letters, gratitude, replay, physical exercise) Exit our comfort zone
The C – the cognition, the thought Attitudinal changes See other side of ourselves
Interesting research findings:

  • Eureka effect/experience – the common human experience of suddenly understanding a previously incomprehensible problem or concept.
  • 80% people from the first Gulf War have PTSD.
  • After 911, 60,000 individuals have PTSD.
  • Facial feedback hypothesis – facial movement can influence emotional experience.
People and their work:

  • Carol Dweck – understand the brain changes.
  • Ellen Langer’s and Emma Thompson’s research in 80s – at the subconscious level, do you really want to change? People feel hard to change their negative attributes if they view them as a source for positive meaning. Tal listed some associated attributes:
* Rigidity <—> Consistency
* Gullibility <—> Trustworthiness
* Grimness <—> Seriousness
* Perfectionism <—> Drive/ambition 
* Worry/anxiety <—> Responsibility 
* Guilt <—> Empathy/sensitivity
* Simplify <—> Lose edge 
* Fault-finding <—> Realism 
* Happiness <—> No pain no gain

This makes me remember Professor Yufen Qian’s session about relationships and happiness. She states people’s characters have both positive and negative sides. When you’re originally attracted by someone’s particular traits, the opposite sides in the traits may bother you later. The negative sides of the trait contribute to the form of the positive/attractive trait that you see. It’s in Chinese. I translate it below.

* Stable, Reliable, Gentle <—> Lack of enthusiasm and the spirit of adventure
* Thoughtful, Attentive, Helpful <—> Need consistent affirmation, Incapable,Weak
* Systematic, Efficiency, Productivity, Successful <—> Boring, Realistic, Bossy
* Footloose and fancy-free, Sexy, Passionate <—> Wicked, Excessively needy, Sex addiction
* Clam, Sedate<, Mysterious <—> Difficult to communicate, No vitality
* Thoughtful, Full of ideas, Thinker <—> Annoying, Cross a bridge before one comes to it
* Funny, Willful <—> Silly, Affected
* Enthusiastic, Generous, Giving, Devoted <—> Aggressive, Manipulative
* Independent, Confident, Strong <—> Cold, Difficult to close
* Vivacious <—> Moody
* Capable, Commanding <—> Arrogant, Manipulative


  • Nathaniel Branden – identify what you want to get rid of and what you want to keep.
  • John Dryden – “We first make our habit and then our habits make us.
  • Sonja Lyubomirsky and Ed Diener – three factors affect on happiness: genetic set range (50%), external circumstances (10%), and intentional activities (40%)
  • Jon Kabatt-Zin, Tara Bennett-Goleman, Herbert Benson  – mindfulness
  • Tara Bennett-Goleman’s book Emotional Alchemy – “…mindfulness means see things they are without change them…”
  • Abraham Maslow – peak experience by innate, meaningful goals, and time.
  • William James’s book The Varieties of Religious Experiences
  • Alice Eagly and Daryl Bem – Attitude affects behaiour, but behaviour also affects attitude.
  • Edgar Schein – behaviour changes attitude.
  • David Myers – active acceptance
  • Lindsey Hyde and Tory Martin – the founder of ‘Strong Women Strong Girls’ (swsg.org)

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