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Recent research: five papers on feeling good & improved functioning, on meaning & wellbeing, and on happy memories,

I seem to be making a habit this month of focusing on a specific journal when posting the weekly report on interesting recent research.  Last week it was the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology  .  This week it's the Journal of Positive Psychology .  To quote the Journal's website: "Positive psychology is about scientifically informed perspectives on what makes life worth living. It focuses on aspects of the human condition that lead to happiness, fulfillment, and flourishing."  First published in 2006, the journal initially came out quarterly.  Now, in 2009, it's increasing its publication frequency to six issues a year - a pleasing sign of the increasing interest in this field.

Friendship, life planning, & expressing emotions

Yesterday and today are a check-in time with my friend Larry.  I've written in a previous blog post how Larry and I have met every three or four months for many years specifically to review how our lives are going and to plan and prioritize our goals for the next few months.  "Taking charge" of our lives in this kind of way makes huge sense.  For example the self-determination literature (S-DT)  highlights the importance of making autonomous decisions about what we put our energy into.  This S-DT research and much other work (e.g. a recent study on goal-setting) also emphasises that this kind of approach is a core component of growing wellbeing in one's life.  Yeats wrote something like "A friend is someone who sees the potential in you and helps you to live it."  Meeting with an old friend in the way Larry and I have done, is certainly an example of what Yeats was talking about.

New Year’s resolution – would you like to be happier?

So here's a blast from the past ... that could be fun and useful for a New Year's resolution.  I first came across Michael Fordyce's research year's ago (Fordyce 1977; Fordyce 1983).  It was probably the first serious scientific exploration of how to help people become happier that I'd ever read.  The approach involves a training called the "Fourteen Fundamentals".  These are fourteen characteristics of happy people, extracted from research, that Fordyce argued most people could develop for themselves.  The "Fundamentals" are: 1.) Be more active and keep busy.  2.) Spend more time socializing.  3.) Be productive at meaningful work.  4.) Get better organized and plan things out.  5.) Stop worrying.  6.) Lower your expectations and aspirations.  7.) Develop positive optimistic thinking.  8.) Get present orientated.  9.) WOAHP - work on a healthy personality. 10.) Develop an outgoing, social personality.  11.) Be yourself.  12.) Eliminate negative feelings and problems.  13.) Close relationships are the #1 source of happiness. 14.) VALHAP (value happiness) - the "secret fundamental".

Recent research: four happiness studies on traditional advice, health benefits, and the particular value of safety & contentment

It seemed time to post on recent research involving happiness and wellbeing.  Here are four studies from the current issues of the Journal of Happiness Studies (the September edition is open access with all full articles freely viewable) and the Journal of Positive Psychology.  Ad Bergsma discusses advice on how to be happy given across the ages.  He refers to some of the other articles in this edition of the Journal of Happiness studies, including papers on the happiness advice of Epicurus, Schopenhauer, and the ancient Chinese philosphers.  Maarten Berg looks at the possible value of ‘New Age' suggestions on happiness.  Paul Gilbert and colleagues look, very interestingly, at different types of positive emotion and suggest that it may be what they call "safe/content" feelings that are particulary protective against a variety of unhappy emotional states.  Veenhoven reviews thirty studies on happiness and longevity and argues that, although happiness does not seem to cure illness, it does a good job of reducing the chances of getting ill - with a similar effect size to the benefits of being a non-smoker rather than a smoker.

Handouts & questionnaires for wellbeing and calming skills

I continue to slowly add handouts & questionnaires to the relevant area in the website's "Good Knowledge" section.  Here are a some that I use largely in the territory of wellbeing, mindfulness and relaxation.  Some are assessment and monitoring questionnaires.  Some provide orientating information.  Some describe specific exercises to do.

Attention, focus & time - this is a Powerpoint slide that I put together and use as a printed-out handout when discussing what we spend our time paying attention to, and how certain forms of attention focus are likely to be more helpful than others.

Four aspects of inner focus - this is another Powerpoint slide I print out to illustrate some overlapping aspects of mindfulness, meditation, relaxation, self-hypnosis, and other related practices.

Transdiagnostic wellbeing therapy - I put this Powerpoint picture together in a rather tongue in cheek way in a discussion with Tom Borkovec.  Despite its quite light-hearted origin, the diagram makes some useful points. 

Wellbeing, calming & mindfulness skills

“ I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again. ” - William Penn

Here are a bunch of handouts that I use largely in the territory of wellbeing, mindfulness and relaxation.  Some are assessment and monitoring questionnaires.  Some provide orientating information.  Some describe specific exercises to do.

Bus driver metaphor (available as both Word and PDF handouts) - this is a classic ACT (acceptance & commitment therapy) metaphor.  I've posted a blog post on this often helpful way of viewing things.  It's sensible though to also understand possible limitations of this metaphor

Self-determination theory

I'm a big fan of Self-Determination Theory (SDT).  SDT is a general theory of motivation and personality that has evolved over the past three decades.  SDT suggests that humans, like plants or other animals, intrinsically 'strive' for need satisfaction & flourishing.  Social context and personal choices can support or thwart this need striving with major effects for health and wellbeing.

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