Dr Tal Ben-Shahar – Harvard Open Courses 1504 – Positive Psychology 12

This session finished up the topic of “change” and started the topic of “setting goals”.

At the beginning, Tal emphasised that changing is No short cuts; We need to Taking time off; and we need to Evaluation and Elaboration.

Positive emotion and painful emotion flow through same pipeline. And if we suppress negative emotions we are very often indirectly/inadvertently also suppressing positive emotions.

According to Tal, “generally speaking people who set goals are controlling other things more successful”. Personally I’m a person who set goals most of time and try to achieve them before deadlines. I don’t really think I’m successful, rather I see it as a skill or a habit of being organised. However, why don’t I see myself successful? Are my goals wrong goals? Perhaps I was born as a low self-esteem person? But I rarely feel helpless or hopeless.

Watched the session, I had a clue for my questions. Tal stated that “attainment of gaols does not lead to happiness; understanding the proper role of goals, the having of a goal, that leads to happiness.” Not all goals are created equal. The goals should be the things that you perceive that you want to do rather than things you have to do. One role of the goals is to liberate ourselves so that we can enjoy the process. Goals are means towards the present end. I kind of understand that the goals I was thinking about are things like work I have to get done, a project I need to complete, the places I want to visit, the new things I want to learn and so on. I should separate them to some extent, and look closely at what are the things I really really really want to do in my life. They are the goals for. Setting goals for those things lead to happier experience.

Life is too short to do what I have to do; it’s barely long enough to do what I want to do.

Goals make us more successful, for the exact same reason that positive beliefs do. If we declare goals, they are likely to become true. Why? Tal answered: words have power, words create the world. Our brain does not like inconsistency. To keep the consistency, we create the world to make the reality is consist to our imagination, which is to make beliefs come true.

Necessity is the mother of inventions. If we ask the right question, it opens up opportunities.

Tal’s definition of happiness below is from his own book:

Happiness is not about making it to the peak of the mountain, nor is it about climbing aimlessly around the mountain; happiness is the experience of climbing towards the peak

At the end of the session, Tal showed a video clip from the file Dead Poet Society. Robin Williams as a teacher was telling students Carpe diem – “seize the day”. I was wondering if Robin Williams’d had more help from people like Tal, would he have suffered depression so much?

I searched the poem:

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time
Robert Herrick  

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
Old time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And, while ye may, go marry;
For, having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.

Interesting research findings:

  • In general, men benefits more from marriage than women.

People and their work:

  • Ira Progoff’s work on Journalling
  • Jamie Pennebaker’s book Opening UP: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions and his research contributions – The ABCs in journalling, 4 times a week, 15 minutes each time on writing down painful experience, reduces your anxiety level. Men are benefit more from journalling than women.
  • Laura King, a student of Jamie Pennebaker, used Abraham Maslow’s “peak experience” concept and run a similar research study to Jamie Pennebaker’s – It proves that journalling about happy and joyful experience, describing experience, replaying your happy experience rather than analysing it will benefit people too.
  • Lyubomirsky Study – journalling about happiness, which analyses the joyful experience has negative effect
  • Daniel Wegner – ‘ironic processing’- supression or repression, releasing
  • Aaron Antonovsky, one of the fathers of positive psychology – The concept of ‘Salutogenesis’ – Three components as the sources of mental health: (1) sense of comprehensibility (2) sense of manageability (3) the sense of meaningfulness
  • Martin Seligman – learned helplessness
  • Barbara Fredrickson – The Broaden-and-Build Theory
  • Albert Bandura – Self-efficacy Theory
  • Karen Horney – ‘neurosis’ never go away completely. so change ourselves completely is unrealistic.
  • Henry David Thoreau – The process matters more.
  • Abraham Maslow – Resilience
  • Roger Bannister – believed that he would break the 4 minutes barrier.
  • Thomas Edison – believed that he would generate light from electricity by the 31 December 1879
  • W.H. Murrary, one of those prominent accomplished climbers – the importance of committing goals
  • Matthieu Richard’s, the translator of Dalai Lama, book The Art of Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill
  • David Watson and K Naragon’s book The Handbook of Positive Psychology – the importance of goals
  • David Myers and Ed Diener – goals and happiness
  • Gwendolyn Brooks’s poem – “Live not for battles won, Live not for the-end-of-the-song, Live for the along.”
  • Ohad Kamin, Tal’s teacher, gave him the best advice for how to make a decision – identify the things that you can do, out of the things identify the things that you want to do. Out of the things you want to do, identify those things that you really want to do. Then identify the things you really really want to do and to do them.
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