Live Happy Impact on Adult Bullying Children's Brain Development

The Impact of Adult Bullying on Children’s Developing Brains

We prefer to talk about child-to-child bullying. Even though it’s a horrendous and serious crisis, it’s still a comfortable topic. However, we become quickly uncomfortable when anyone raises the issue of adult bullying. Advances in brain science have provided us with new understanding that can give us the courage to talk about adults who bully children. Not long ago, we did not believe a concussion was a problem. In fact, we saw it as a badge of honor for an athlete to go back into competition and show his team and coach what he was made of. We now know that concussions are actually serious brain injuries and must be recovered and repaired before an athlete returns to play. Likewise, we now know that all forms of bullying and abuse can do serious harm to the brain. This includes: neglecting, ignoring, refusing feedback, walking out on someone, ghosting, excluding, shaming, blaming, using put downs, humiliating, berating, threatening, yelling, swearing, assaulting and all forms of cyber, sexual, and physical abuse. Extensive, replicated, consensus-building research documents on brain scans how these kinds of bullying behaviors harm the brain. We cannot see the injuries with the naked eye, just like we cannot see the blackening of lungs when individuals smoke. We need a brain scan to make visible the harm to the brain and we need an x-ray to make visible the harm to the lungs. Now that non-invasive technology has revealed to us just how deadly all bullying behaviors are to our brains, we need to change how we conduct ourselves. Adults — especially those in positions of trust and power over children, such as parents, teachers, and coaches — need to lead the charge. Children’s brains are developing and vulnerable. They are extremely sensitive due to their developmental stages especially from 0 to 5 and from 13 to 25 years. A teen or twenty-something may look like an adult, but their brains are not yet mature and they have heightened sensitivity to their environment and peer relationships. In a positive, psychologically and physically safe, caring environment, adolescent brains will flourish. In a toxic, psychologically or physically dangerous, bullying environment, their brains will struggle and may suffer damage. It can be difficult for adults to recognize that they are bullying children and youth. It is challenging because we’ve been raised in a society that normalizes adult bullying while telling children not to do it. When adults bully, we do rarely hold them accountable. In fact, we are more likely to change our terms when adults bully. We say what they are doing is “motivating, giving tough love, rejecting political correctness, being passionate, refusing to be a wuss, toughening kids up for a tough world, breaking down the victim to build them back up better,” and so on. As a society, on a deep level, we still believe the myth that bullying and abuse are a necessary evil to attain greatness, power, and prestige. Perhaps this is why political leaders in society do not feel compelled to coverup blatant bullying behaviors in public or documented on social media. The myth that bullying is necessary to attain greatness is a myth in the sense that there is no research to back it up. None. In contrast, there is extensive research spanning decades that provides evidence for the long lasting, serious harm to the brain by all forms of bullying and abuse. A quick way for adults to identify if they are bullying children is to compare how they treat kids to how they treat adults in positions of power over them. Do the parents speak and act the same way with their bosses as they do with their children? Does the coach act and speak to the Athletic Director the same way he does to his child athletes? Does the teacher act and speak the same way to the principal as she does to her students? If not, why not? Do children not deserve the same kind of respect and care? Surely they deserve more because they are sensitive and vulnerable and in a massive power imbalance with the adults in their lives. Science has informed us that all forms of bullying and abuse harm brains. Now it’s up to us to take this empowering, inspiring knowledge and change our conduct. We can work together to role-model empathy, thoughtfulness, and compassion so that our child populations learn a new way of being in the world, a far healthier, happier, and more high-performing way, grounded in brain science and advanced through the adults concerned by the normalized bullying in society
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Live Happy's Tips for Preventing Decision Fatigue

Do You Have Decision Fatigue? Here’s What It Is and How to Prevent It

Standing in the grocery store at the end of a long day, it’s not usual for me to feel irritated and indecisive. The question that puts me over the edge: “What’s for dinner?”   I’ll do anything I can to divert that monumental question to my husband.  Ask him to run to the store, or text to see what he’s in the mood to eat, or what I should grab.  Anything so that I don’t have to face a decision that doesn’t just impact me, but everyone in the family (who all have their own strong opinions on what should or should not be served).   Why is it that I can function all day, juggling work, kids, and home, but some days the thought of dinner feels like too much?   The answer is decision fatigue, and if you’ve ever found yourself stressed, frozen, irritable, or just plain exhausted at the thought of making a decision, you’ve faced it too.    What is Decision Fatigue? Decision fatigue is defined as “difficulty in making a good decision experienced as a result of the number of decisions one needs to make.”  The more decisions you make in a day, the harder it can be to make those decisions.  Your brain has a limit and if you surpass that limit you can begin to feel the effects.   We make a crazy amount of decisions each day. It is estimated that the average adult makes 35,000 decisions in a day, according to Dr. Joel Hoomans, an Assistant Professor of Management and Leadership Studies at Roberts Wesleyan College.  From the mundane—what should I wear or eat for breakfast, to the complex—planning a work project, or deciding where to enroll your child for school next year.   What makes understanding decision fatigue difficult is the limit of decisions you can handle in a day is not set and can vary.  Factors that can influence your rate of decision fatigue include how rested you are, the food you’ve eaten, the amount of stress you are facing, and how much you are trying to handle on any given day (while multi-tasking may feel necessary at times, it is can be very draining for your brain).  Individuals struggling with ADHD, depression, or anxiety can also experience heightened levels of decision fatigue.   Making a decision involves multiple networks in your brain working together.  The networks involved in making a decision are the same ones that contribute to your executive functions.  These functions are the high-level brain functions that dictate your ability to sustain focus, override impulses, think, learn, plan, and make decisions.  High-level functions of the brain also require high amounts of fuel to support their actions.  This means the more you’ve done in a day involving your mental capacities, the less fuel you’ll have remaining to support thinking and making decisions.   If you struggle with challenges related to ADHD, anxiety, or depression you may be more likely to find yourself facing decision fatigue. Here's How to Prevent Decision Fatigue Next time you find yourself stuck when facing a decision, remember this—decision fatigue is your brain’s way of communicating with you.  Your brain is telling you that you’ve reached your limit.  To push past this limit successfully your brain needs extra support!  If you’re able to, press pause on your decision and take time to implement one of the following energizing strategies first: Rest - a quick nap, mindfulness meditation, or a good night’s sleep can go a long way in providing your brain a chance to recharge Eat - a high protein snack that includes healthy fats such as avocado is a quick way to provide more fuel to your brain Exercise - 20-30 minutes of exercise that engages your muscles and spikes your heart rate can help to increase your ability to focus after exercising Switch gears - if something is causing you stress, taking time to set it aside to engage in something enjoyable, like time spent outside, can help you come back to face the challenge feeling more refreshed Connect with a friend or family member.  Taking a few extra minutes out of your day to connect with someone you care about can help to recharge your mood and energy! Thoughtful planning can help to reduce your frequency of decision fatigue: Use the weekend to plan outfits and meals for the week, to reduce the number of decisions you need to make during your work week Make your biggest decisions first thing in the day, when you are rested and fresh Create habits and routines whenever possible to minimize the little decisions (do your grocery shopping first thing Saturday morning so you don’t need to decide that week when to go) Create to-do lists that include days and deadlines to minimize procrastination (which creates more decision fatigue due to stress and a backlog of decisions!) Don't Make Decision Fatigue a Family Habit If you’re a parent, keep in mind that decision fatigue is just as real for our kids as it is for us!  Our kids also face days full of demands and stressful decisions.  Next time your child melts down when you ask what they want for dinner, know their brain is showing you they’ve had enough for one day!  Implementing the same strategies that help you, can help support your child’s needs as well. We can’t make the stresses and challenges in life go away, but we can work to be better prepared.  Knowing how to identify your threshold for decision fatigue and what to do when the moment strikes will hopefully set you up for success in your 35,000 decisions tomorrow. Weekends are a great time to address decisions such as meals and outfits for the week, reducing the number of decisions you make during your work days. Save the big decisions for times when you are fresh and focused - first thing in the morning, or after you've eaten or exercised are great times to tackle the more challenging decisions, or longer lists! Dr. Rebecca Jackson is currently the VP of Programs and Outcomes for Brain Balance, where she designs and implements programs focused on strengthening the brain to optimize human performance for a variety of ages and abilities. She has been featured on national media outlets, including ABC’s The Doctors Show, NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, Forbes, Business Insider, TODAY, Huffington Post and more.
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Portrait Scandinavian woman holds the flag of Finland in the background on the premises of the cafe.

Finland Named the World’s Happiest Country — Again

Despite a year of pain, suffering and uncertainty, annual World Happiness Report shows a growth in kindness. Finland is still the happiest country in the world. That’s according to the 2022 World Happiness Report, which is released each year by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. This is the fifth consecutive year that Finland has taken the top spot in the report, which ranks countries according to national happiness in addition to reporting on specific areas of happiness and well-being. Once again, Nordic countries fared well, with five landing in the top 10: Finland Denmark Iceland Switzerland The Netherlands Luxembourg Sweden Norway Israel New Zealand Closer to home, the U.S. moved up from its No. 19 position last year to the No. 16 spot this year, while Canada dropped to 15th place — a substantial fall, the report authors noted, from its No. 5 position in 2012. Two countries that have been top of mind around the world recently — Russia and Ukraine — both landed in the bottom half of the world happiness rankings, at No. 80 and 98, respectively. The rankings were compiled before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the analysts will follow how the situation affects not only those two countries but disrupts the global level of happiness. Of the least happy countries, Zimbabwe, Lebanon and Afghanistan ranked last. A 10-Year Retrospective This is the 10th anniversary of the report, and its authors used this as an opportunity to look at how public interest in happiness has evolved over the past decade. However, during the report’s release on Friday, Jon Clifton of Gallup noted that they have been compiling data on happiness for 17 years. “Experts have figured out how to count everything, but nobody was tracking how people feel,” he said. “So, we set out to quantify how much anger they feel. How much sadness. How much stress people feel.” The findings over the years have been both useful and eye-opening. Clifton noted that this year’s data indicates that stress, sadness, anger, and worry have reached a record high. “All five of those have been rising for 10 straight years,” he said. “So, as we celebrate the International Day of Happiness, don’t forget the people who are unhappy.” Prosocial Behaviors Prevail One of the most positive findings of the report was that prosocial behavior increased globally from 2020 to 2021. Using donations, volunteering, and helping strangers as metrics, researchers found that around the world, we became more willing to help one another. Although this prosocial behavior occurred at different levels or in different ways, depending on the region, every region showed some sort of increase — often at “remarkable rates not seen for any of the variables we have tracked before and during the pandemic,” report authors noted. John Helliwell of the Vancouver School of Economics at the University of British Columbia and one of the authors of the report, said that areas where people had a greater feeling of trust in their government officials and in their communities were better able to weather the negative effects of the pandemic. That’s consistent with findings of studies that have shown communities with high levels of trust tend to show more resilience during such crises as tsunamis, earthquakes, accidents, and storms. “The places where trust was high fared better during COVID. It was people who were reaching out, and who were seeing others reach out,” Helliwell said, emphasizing the role this played in offsetting the drumbeat of bad news played out through the news media. “Life evaluations continue to be strikingly resilient in the face of COVID-19, and the pandemic of benevolence was one of the supporting factors.”
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Cute portrayal of a range of different emotions

Make Your Happiness Last Longer by Embodying All Emotions

To embody an emotion is to expand the experience of an emotion to as much of the body as possible. When we do that, we are able to tolerate and stay with the emotional experience for much longer; and our thinking and behavior in relation to the emotion improve. The practice of embodying emotion is of value to both unpleasant emotions such as sadness and pleasant emotions such as happiness. The strategy of embodying emotions is based on the latest research findings in affective neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and body psychotherapy. How can embodying the emotion of happiness improve a person’s well-being? When we expand the experience of happiness to as much of the body as possible, we are able to increase, stay with, and enjoy our happiness for a much longer period. Our thinking and behavior will improve to support that we remain happy longer, by making our thinking and behavior more positive to enhance and support our happiness or by exposing and resolving our thinking and feeling that do not support our happiness. And, because unpleasant emotions are associated with states of increasing stress and dysregulation and pleasant emotions with states of decreasing stress and increasing regulation in the brain and body physiology, embodying pleasant emotions such as happiness can improve our health and energy as well as make us more resilient in the face of life’s challenges, consistent with the findings in positive psychology that people who are happier tend to be healthier and more resilient, physically and psychologically. How we can enhance the practice Positive Psychology through the Practice of Embodying Emotions Positive psychology emphasizes the important role positive cognitions, emotions, and behaviors can play in increasing our wellbeing any therapeutic process. Just as there are any number of positive cognitions and behaviors, there are also any number of positive emotions. However, most if not all psychotherapy approaches work with only a limited number of pleasant and unpleasant emotions, influenced by the academic research on emotions that usually focuses only on a limited number and vocabulary of emotions. Integral Somatic Psychology (ISP) in its primary clinical strategy of the practice of embodying emotions works creatively with a large range of emotions including the always-present and often-overlooked sensorimotor emotions, psychologically meaningful body states such as  feeling good or feeling as though each cell in the body were eating chocolate, for example. We often have more access to such positive sensorimotor emotions and are able to embody them with greater ease than the basic emotion of happiness. At times, expanding positive emotional experiences in a body is made difficult by the body shutting down due to its inability to tolerate an unpleasant emotion. When the chest is constricted against the experience of grief, it is hard to feel joy there let alone expand it from there to other places in the body. In such instances, practitioners of positive psychology can work to free the body for the experience and expansion of positive emotions in an efficient manner by having the unpleasant emotion of grief embodied first, as expanding unpleasant emotions has been shown to be quite effective in increasing one’s ability to tolerate them and in freeing the body from defenses against emotions. RAJA SELVAM, Ph.D., is the developer of Integral Somatic Psychology, an approach based on the paradigm of embodied cognition, emotion, and behavior in cognitive and affective neuroscience. He is the author of The Practice of Embodying Emotions: A Guide to Improving Cognitive, Emotional, and Behavioral Outcomes.
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A child holding a school book.

How Positive Education Can Help Students Flourish

When young people are given to the tools to find happiness within themselves as well as others, everyone wins Walt Disney used the noun “plus” as a verb, meaning to improve something that you are working on or already doing. I think that is what we have to do with education in all sectors. We need to “plus” it. We are living in some of the best times of humanity, as Steven Pinker has claimed in his recent book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.“We live longer, healthier, safer, wealthier, freer, more peaceful and more stimulating lives than those who came before us,” Steven says in a recent New York Times interview. “And by ‘we’ I don’t just mean we in the West. This progress is encompassing the world.”At the same time, we live in volatile times: The future is uncertain, and the state of some of our institutions, our cities and movements is threatened globally. How do we work to ensure that we pass the baton to future generations with the best possible hope of continuing that progress? Talking to Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D.—a founder of positive psychology and positive education—a few years ago, he said, “We just need a time machine....” We were talking about how one could possibly engineer the “good life,” a life filled with meaning and purpose. How could one prospect one’s future? If you could have a time machine, you would be able to see the various moves and strategies you employed, the serendipitous path you lit out upon to thrive in later life. This is the question that educators, schools, colleges, universities, parents, students, policymakers and governments face. How do we engineer thriving, positive lives? If we could do that, we would indeed be able to change the world for the good. Positive psychology—its founding and expansion to fields such as economics, politics, neuroscience, cognitive science, sociology, anthropology and beyond—has begged the question, “Why are our institutions not positive?” This is most poignant when we think of our young people and their education. The various tragedies in U.S. schools and universities has brought this to the particular attention of our nation and the world: Why are schools not shaped with positivity, thriving and well-being at the core? Wouldn’t learning and results on standardized assessments be improved if all of our schools, public, charter and independent, focused with priority on the well-being of our students? Wouldn’t our children be safer and better prepared for their futures? The Promise of Positive Education Positive education proposes that at the center of institutions of learning are a set of interrelated components, PERMA, that have to be addressed as a matter of extreme priority in order to have educational organizations that help students thrive. PERMA stands for: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishments. Seligman suggests that if we could suffuse these elements more convincingly and intentionally in all of our educational organizations, not only would we have better learning outcomes, but more importantly, we would have better life outcomes for everyone leading to a better society. “But our schools and universities are doing a great job,” educators around the world claim. And it is true that on some metrics, schools around the world show student improvement on standardized assessments, but at what cost? Obviously, it depends on what you are measuring. At the same time, there is a massive increase in global mental health problems and opioid abuse across all ages in the United States. Even our social media platforms that claim to “do good” or “connect people” are correlated with users’ increased depression, flawed critical thinking and decreased well-being. Something seems terribly wrong. It is as though at some point we took a wrong turn that made it appropriate to define our value as human beings via a grade, a score or the number of followers we have. We have also come to believe that learning is just hard and is a game, rather than a lifelong endeavor of self-improvement and, although by necessity is “desirably difficult” at times, is also joyous. We have become distracted from seeking a capacity for a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives and have become obsessed with credentialing and capitalistic gains rather than humanistic success. Innovation to Stand the Test of Time So, how do we resolve this? I think the answer is simple. We recalibrate our entire system of education globally through positive education. This is already happening in many places all over the world. However, these are small sparks, prompted by individuals and institutions interested in how to translate valid cognitive science and social science research into everyday practices in schools and universities. For positive education to work it needs to become the norm; it needs to be just good education. Too much of what happens in our learning centers is through an ever-accelerating cycle of trends that crash upon schools like waves crashing against the shore. These “waves” have an effect, and then the effect disappears to be followed by yet another new set of waves of innovation. Positive education needs to be the norm. It needs to be a matter of a shift of assumptions and beliefs that permeate all school and university environments. We have to believe that to learn well, we need to tend more effectively to the social and emotional well-being of our young people. If we could put that at the center of what we do in all of our educational institutions, we would have better learning, better citizens, better corporations, better countries and a better world. Why is this so difficult? It is because the older generations, people like myself, in my fifties and in charge of schools and school systems, still believe that well-being is secondary to learning rather than a means to it. In order to change that view, we need to assure the elements of PERMA have primacy in the culture of all of our educational organizations. We need to prize the development of character strengths and ethical decision-making as equally important as the development of literacy and quantitative understanding. We need to ensure that our teachers and professors model the very social and emotional capacities and maturity we seek to develop in our students. We need to figure out more effective ways to provide good formative feedback to our students about the development of their moral and character development just as much as we provide feedback on their intellectual and academic development. In the past, I have felt that these issues and a global call for a positive education movement were more of a call to educators and to our students. More and more, I think that this is a matter of broader justice. It is a matter that is pertinent to all of us as global citizens. It is a way to save a world that is perhaps on an errant path. We need to work on increasing the potential of our youth in every country, which would be a worthwhile thing to do as we have seen through the young people in Parkland, in Malala Yousafzai who is fighting for girls’ education worldwide and in the activist voices of young people globally who are fighting oppression while seeking both justice and opportunity. Instead of being focused on GDP or even global happiness, we should be focused on a PERMA index with parents, governments, schools and universities seeking to work in concerted and collaborative ways to increase the PERMA in their own country and others. This is something that need not be debated infinitely since it is pragmatic, backed by science, and, I believe, within grasp for every individual and organization that has enough wherewithal to look positively to the future and ensure the thriving of our young people. We need to “plus” education, thereby “plussing” our countries and the world. We all need positive education. This article originally appeared in the October 2018 edition of Live Happy magazine. Dominic Randolph is the sixth Head of School at the Riverdale Country School, a Pre-K–12 independent school in New York City, and a founder of the Character Lab and Plussed+
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Live Happy's Positive Lessons from the Pandemic

Positive Lessons From the Pandemic

Although much has been researched and written about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected mental and emotional well-being around the globe, most of that research has looked at its negative effects. During the International Positive Psychology Association’s (IPPA) Seventh World Congress last week, held virtually for the first time, some of the world’s leading positive psychology experts shared the lesser-known ways the pandemic has had positive outcomes for individuals and for society.Dr. Antonella Delle Fave, professor of psychology at the University of Milano in Italy, offered the keynote presentation, “Eudaimonia: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” providing insight into some of the lesser-publicized effects of the pandemic. Her research looked at how factors such as resilience and social support affected individuals.The studies clearly show the importance of good mental health, she said.“Mental health was shown to play a protective role against PTSD,” she reported, referencing a study that indicated 33% of people considered themselves to be flourishing during the pandemic, while 9% landed in the “languishing” category. The rest of the survey respondents fell somewhere in between those two extremes.“People who were languishing were at higher risk of developing PTSD during the pandemic. Positive mental health was a predictor of less severe symptoms.” Building Resilience Individual resilience showed a direct correlation to such things as depression, anxiety and stress in countries around the globe. But those who practiced healthy, resilience-building skills fared far better than those who did not. For example, studies from Norway and the U.S. showed that people who participated in physical activity were less susceptible to depression and anxiety. Other factors found to bolster resilience included support from family and friends, proper sleep habits and prayer or meditation. “Resilience seems to be one of the primary resources across nations and populations,” Delle Fave noted. “Studies around the world are in agreement about the positive role of resilience in well-being and the negative correlation between low resilience and anxiety.” Discovering Happiness Based on Delle Fave’s research, the people who were able to thrive and flourish during lockdowns looked at the pandemic through a different lens. That not only allowed them to feel more at ease in the moment but often created lasting change in their lives, such as: Many people reevaluated what was important in life, such as being healthy and having social support. They also reevaluated how they spent their time and what was valuable to them. This led to rediscovering lost interests, changing their relationship with work and becoming more self-aware. A large number of people strengthened relationships with their family and friends. “People who increased their social connections saw higher levels of wellbeing in all countries,” Delle Fave said. “What this showed us was that interaction with family and friends mattered. Social support was an important contributor to wellbeing.” Steps to Well-being Other researchers looked at specific ways people maintained their well-being and built resilience during the pandemic. A study headed by Lea Waters of the Centre for Positive Psychology, University of Melbourne in Australia identified several interventions that were shown to be successful in managing the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic. They included: Finding meaning. Having meaning in life helps buffer the effects of adversity and has both physical and psychological advantages, Waters’ report shows: “People who report higher levels of meaning in life also are happier, express more frequent and strong positive emotions, endorse and use their character strengths more, have more satisfying relationships and are viewed as more desirable potential friends, help others more, feel better subjective health, report fewer health symptoms [and] have better functioning immune systems.” Practicing self-compassion. Treating oneself with kindness is an effective way to cope with high-stress situations, and that proved true during the pandemic. People who practiced self-compassion during the pandemic reported less fear and a greater sense of emotional safety. Creating a gratitude practice. One study conducted during the pandemic showed that many people were grateful even during the pandemic. Over 56% of respondents reported being grateful, which ranked higher than any other positive emotion, such as happiness or hope. And it was a strong predictor of happiness after the pandemic. “The more grateful people were, the more they reported positive self-changes. This is important because people can increase their levels of gratitude with simple practices such as journaling.” Implementing such practices can have a significant effect on how well an individual manages such adverse conditions as, say, a global pandemic, and Waters said she hoped the research would provide a path forward to help individuals increase their resilience and wellbeing in a post-pandemic world. “[We] hope that the cultivation of these outcomes continues beyond this crisis and leads to sustained positive outcomes,” she said.
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Portrait of beautiful african american woman smiling and looking away at park during sunset.

Why Happiness Studies?

A transatlantic flight, somewhere between London and NewYork City. The monotonous hum of the plane; the slow-moving clouds; the tranquil expanse of water, miles below, that somehow seems within reach—all these soothe me into a state of calm repose. My mind is clear, open. And in this meditative state a question strikes me: How is it that there are fields of study dedicated to literature, psychology, physics, business, history, and dozens of other subjects, and yet none dedicated to the study of happiness? Yes, there is positive psychology, which is the field that I had immersed myself in for almost two decades, but that’s just the psychology of happiness. What about a discipline, or rather an interdisciplinary field, that takes what psychologists have to say about happiness and combines it with what philosophers, economists, theologians, artists, biologists and others all have to say about the good life? The lack of an interdisciplinary program of happiness studies is particularly puzzling considering the almost universal agreement on the centrality of happiness in our lives. We want to be happy, and we want those we care about to be happy. Aristotle, more than 2000 years ago, argued that happiness is the “most desirable of all things … something final and self-sufficient, and is the end of action.” Even before the wise Greek, the wise King Solomon expressed similar sentiments, claiming that the highest life goal is to “rejoice, and to do good.” In The Alchemy of Happiness, Al-Ghazali, an eleventh-century Persian theologian, claimed that the ultimate prize of self-knowledge and devotion to God is happiness. The United States Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson a year into the American Revolutionary War, declared it a “self-evident” truth that the pursuit of happiness was an unalienable human right. Echoing this sentiment, Helen Keller wrote that “most of us regard happiness as the proper end of all earthly enterprise. The will to be happy animates alike the philosopher, the prince and the chimney-sweep. No matter how dull, or how mean, or how wise a man is, he feels that happiness is his indisputable right.” This focus on happiness is not restricted to Western thinkers. The Chandogya Upanishad, a Hindu text that is among the world’s oldest religious scriptures, declares that happiness is to be found not in the limited, trivial things of the world, but in the infinite. Confucius, the teacher and philosopher of China’s Spring and Autumn period (the fifth century BCE), invokes joy and pleasure in the two opening lines of the Analects. In his book The Art of Happiness, based on 2500years of Buddhist teachings, the current Dalai Lama proclaims that, “Whether one believes in religion or not, whether one believes in this religion or that religion, the very purpose of our life is happiness, the very motion of our life is toward happiness.” The idea common to these and other thinkers is that happiness is the highest on the hierarchy of goals, the end toward which all other ends lead. Wealth or wisdom, accolades or accomplishments, are subordinate and secondary to happiness; whether our desires are material or social, they are merely means toward what I’ve come to call life’s ultimate currency. Any other currency—be it in the form of money or prestige—only has value if it can yield, or be exchanged for, happiness. If happiness is indeed the highest end, or even if it is merely one of many goals that matters to us, then dedicating effort to understanding and exploring it is a worthy pursuit. And yet, in 2015 there was not a single institution of higher learning anywhere in the world that offered a degree in happiness studies. There were a handful of positive psychology degree programs and some dedicated to the philosophy of happiness, and then there were programs that took a very specific and narrow approach to cultivating wellbeing. But in contrast to programs in economics, for instance, no academic program in happiness focused on both micro happiness (individuals and relationships) as well as macro happiness (organizations and nations). No academic program in happiness embarked on an interdisciplinary approach, analogous to a rigorous medical school curriculum, in which different fields of inquiry merged to shed light on a particular subject. One of the reasons for the conspicuous absence of happiness studies has been the difficulty of coming to a consensus on what this field ought to look like. What is happiness? What are the core principles that define the structure of the field? What topics and ideas make up its substance? Should any subject that includes the word “happiness” be part of the field, no matter the context in which the word is used or its implied meaning? Or should any word associated with happiness—such as “joy,” “flourishing,” “fun,” “purpose” or “pleasure”—be a criterion for inclusion? Which topics related to the good life—wholly or in part, directly or indirectly— should find their way into a happiness studies curriculum? These are just some of the questions I will address in this book, in an attempt to create a coherent, interdisciplinary field of life’s ultimate currency. I must point out, though, that the blueprint I am proposing in the following pages—the structure and the substance of the field—is a conversation starter, not a decree. I am inviting you to actively engage in an urgently important dialogue surrounding the good life—a dialogue that ought to be a part of this fascinating field and can itself be a source of much happiness.
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Portrait Of Smiling Young Friends Walking Outdoors Together

What is Positive Psychology—and What Does it Do for Us?

When Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., became president of the American Psychological Association in 1998, he chose a theme that would change the course of modern psychology. Until that point, psychology had focused on studying and correcting abnormal behaviors and mental illness; in essence, it was about fixing what was “wrong.” Martin introduced a radical new concept: to focus instead on happiness and positivity to encourage what was right and nurture our best assets. This approach spawned a movement and area of study that today is known as positive psychology. Martin, flanked by psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., and Christopher Peterson, Ph.D., is viewed as a founding father and chief architect of this new mindset, presenting a broad range of solutions for discovering personal happiness. Martin’s theory of PERMA, Mihaly’s theory of flow and Chris and Martin’s groundbreaking work on character strengths and virtues all were major contributions to the foundation of positive psychology. This combination of feeling well and functioning on a higher level quickly resonated with both practitioners and the general public. Positive psychology offered many paths to nurturing that well-being, including character strengths, meaning and purpose, flow and mindfulness, hope and optimism—and more. “Once every 500 years an idea comes along that sweeps away the religious and political doctrines of the time and creates entirely new structure,” Martin said at the Fifth World Congress on Positive Psychology in 2017. “I believe that idea is human flourishing and well-being…the building of human flourishing and the building of well-being.” Moving Into the Mainstream Martin defines positive psychology as “the study of what constitutes the pleasant life, the engaged life and the meaningful life.” His goal—to shift the psychology mindset from a disease-focused model to one that searches for the conditions that lead to flourishing—has taken root over the past two decades. Since 2000, according to University of Cambridge’s Felicia A. Huppert, initiatives and interventions have been adopted by schools, colleges and universities, giving rise to the growing practice of positive education. Today, the applications of positive psychology go far beyond the classrooms, reaching into corporations and governments. “The most impactful steps are those taken by the big players, like national governments and the United Nations,” says Anneke Buffone, lead research scientist for the World Well-Being Project at the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “They have understood the importance of well-being and have begun to act. Governments today understand that a nation’s growth and success is about so much more than the [Gross Domestic Product]. The effects of this will be profound.” Already, it has changed the way some governments measure success. In 2011, the Kingdom of Bhutan, which has built policy around the Gross National Happiness Index rather than the GDP, introduced a resolution to the U.N. General Assembly. The measure, which the U.N. adopted, called for a global emphasis on happiness and well-being. Today, the United Arab Emirates even has a ministry of happiness, whose role is to develop strategies for promoting well-being among its citizens. Many governments have adopted a happiness focus and strategically implemented changes that lead citizens toward greater well-being, Anneke says. Projects like the annual World Happiness Report, a survey of global happiness published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, help raise awareness about happiness around the world and the conditions that support it as well as those that undermine it. Taking Positive Psychology to Work Much of our lives are spent working, and Anneke says the workplace is one area where positive psychology’s influence is most evident. “Countless workplaces now have well-being initiatives and there are more discussions than ever about policies that support better work-life balance,” she says. “Millennials demand jobs that fulfill them and allow them to strategically use character strengths, which is a direct result of positive psychology principles that have been disseminated in our society.” That may be the reason for the mindset shift reflected in Gallup’s State of the American Workplace 2017 report. Today, 53 percent of Americans say they would rather have a job that contributes to their personal well-being than one that pays well. They’re looking for greater work-life balance and consider well-being to be “very important” in their job choices. And, Anneke says, industry is taking note. “More and more companies aspire to be positive businesses, companies that value making the world a better place, companies that want to create value for customers, employees and the company as a whole.” For example, concepts like Mihaly’s theory of flow—which is a mental state of marked energized focus and engagement—have been adopted by forward-thinking workplaces that see the benefit both for the employee and the company. Additionally, many organizations—including Goldman Sachs and IBM—have created resilience programs to help employees better manage the unique stresses of their jobs. Bringing It Home Positive psychology is also being welcomed as a tool for parenting and improving relationships. Practices that are integral to positive psychology, such as gratitude, compassion, savoring and optimism all provide pathways to stronger relationships at home. Courses and books on topics like mindful parenting and strengths-based parenting have helped shift the focus to emphasizing what works, what needs to be encouraged and how to bring out the best in a child. Like the science in which it is rooted, positive parenting is about identifying and using one’s potential and abilities to create a happy and meaningful life. And, with the “R” in PERMA standing for positive relationships, it’s no surprise that positive psychology tenets play a major factor in how our closest and most important relationships play out. Learning how to improve those bonds with positive psychology practices, both as a giver and as a recipient, increases the strength of our relationships. That, in turn, contributes to what is called the “upward spiral” of happiness. Today, Anneke says scientists see more integration of positive psychology and technology. “I believe this space will become more impactful, especially as data empowers people to manage their own well-being,” she says. “Positive psychology principles can be guiding principles of transformation, which will have an unbelievably positive impact on current and future generations."
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Girl holds and changes her face portraits with different emotions

An Alternative Approach to Happiness

In 1967, concert audiences were treated to one of the most bizarre musical pairings in history. Jimi Hendrix and his psychedelic rock band toured as the opening act for The Monkees. The Monkees wanted validation as serious musicians, and Jimi’s band had a large fan base in England but was relatively unknown in the U.S. Jacksonville, Florida, was one venue serving as the scene of this cultural implosion. Conservative fans of The Monkees were taken aback by the sight of Jimi in a neon-colored shirt violently strumming his guitar before setting it on fire. When Jimi asked the crowd to sing along to “Foxy Lady,” they drowned him out with chants of “We want Davy!” A few gigs later in New York, Jimi, tired of the “We want The Monkees” chant, offered a middle finger to the crowd before walking off the stage and quitting the tour. Instead of modifying their sound to gain mainstream appeal, the collective anger of the three members of the Jimi Hendrix Experience served as energy to embrace their nonconformity, solidify their musical identity and invent a style so distinct that musical historians talk about electric guitar playing in categories of before and after their arrival. People spend time and effort seeking out positive experiences and cherishing them. I am not going to rally against jumping into a cool lake on a warm summer afternoon, cuddling with a loved one on a picnic blanket or enjoying the first few bites of a bacon-wrapped scallop drizzled in maple syrup. Moments are the building blocks of a satisfying life, and we benefit from noticing, engaging, enriching and absorbing these and other pleasurable experiences. Make no mistake, pleasurable moments are good. Yet there is no escaping negative experiences, which are often the springboards to the highest peaks. We might not welcome physical pain, social awkwardness, relationship dissolution, negative feedback or tough negotiations as the ingredients for an ideal life. And yet, each of these uncomfortable experiences has the potential of aiding knowledge and skill development and strengthening social bonds. Beware of Labels Scientists Gerald Clore and Norbert Schwarz have accumulated evidence for decades to showcase some of the dangers of treating “feelings as information.” What could possibly go wrong by interpreting what feels good as something that is good? The answer is a lot. When experiencing a benign feeling such as admiration, aesthetic appreciation, calmness or satisfaction, we see little reason to engage in effortful, detailed thinking and instead process information less carefully, even superficially. We are prone to mental errors that fail to account for uncertainty or complexity. When in a group of people similar in personality, values or race trying to generate creative solutions, there is some evidence of subpar performance compared to a diverse group. And yet, we think our cohesive, highly synchronized group of similar people is doing better. The reason is that being around people who look the same and think the same feels comfortable and this positive state is interpreted as evidence of high functionality—in this case, high creative performance. In the diverse group, there is more tension and awkwardness and this discomfort is often avoided at the expense of effective group performance. In a similar vein, when we feel happy, we are more prone to racial and ethnic stereotyping, we are more gullible and we produce less accurate and detailed memories. When happy, there can be less motivation to exert energy and effort. Depending on the situation and desired outcome, you might benefit from being mildly unhappy—feeling slightly anxious, sad, angry, confused or guilty. Pain as Social Glue It also turns out that people are hard-wired to connect through pain. A study conducted by Jim Coan, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of Virginia illustrates this point. The researchers wanted to know whether physical threats to a close friend—electric shocks to the ankle in this case—led to a pattern of brain activity that was similar to shocks administered to strangers. The researchers discovered that the brain regions activated when someone received a personal shock happened to be nearly identical to the brain regions activated when the shock was delivered to their friend but not to a stranger. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense. To increase the probability of survival, we need to find people we can rely on who will expand our strength, stamina, knowledge and social network. When we travel to a foreign country, it is helpful to have a companion who speaks the local language. When we are mountaineering, a rock scramble appears less steep when standing beside a close friend. Our brains treat close, reliable people in our social networks as part of the self—resources we can depend on in a crunch. Pain, as it turns out, offers a shortcut to forming mutually beneficial relationships. A research team in Australia recently investigated if shared pain fosters social bonding. People enduring painful tasks such as submerging their hands in ice-cold water with future group members felt a greater sense of loyalty and showed a boost in cooperation while completing subsequent challenges. Shared painful experiences speed up the intimacy process. This is why people offering help during tragedies such as hurricanes or terrorist attacks often establish lasting friendships. Our wider social network offers a sense of connection and resources that can be drawn upon in future difficulties. Negative emotions, pain, stressors and strains often serve as social glue. In a culture that increasingly prizes positivity, we need opportunities to candidly express and experience pain and discomfort. One of the great paradoxes is that by being vulnerable with other people, sharing and disclosing painful events, we end up feeling more comfortable, connected and courageous. It might not feel good, but sometimes feeling bad is exactly what we need to live well. We might not become the greatest guitarist of all time, but learning how to sit with, work with and channel our negative emotions can assuredly lead us to greater achievements, relationships and a sense of happiness and meaning in life.
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Ed Diener | Professor of Psychology, Author

Renowned Happiness Researcher Ed Diener Dies

Ed Diener, one of the trailblazers in the study of happiness and well-being, died on April 27. As one of the world’s most cited scholars in the field, Diener had earned the title “Dr. Happiness” from his students and was among the most eminent research psychologists in the world. His interest in studying happiness began as a college student in the mid-1960s — long before it was accepted as a legitimate researched topic — but it wasn’t until the early 1980s, as a tenured professor, that he was able to immerse himself into research on happiness. Diener coined the term “subjective well-being” (or SWB) as a measurement of happiness and in 1984, he published hisSatisfaction with Life Scale, a scientific measurement of subjective well-being that is still used today. Another major contribution to the field of positive psychology was his research on whether people are happy or not and the genetic basis for happiness. His research dispelled many of the myths about happiness and provided insight into how income, upbringing, relationships, and governmental policies affect personal happiness. His research also underscored how enjoying life is a strong predictor of good health and longevity. As a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and the University of Utah and senior scientist for the Gallup Organization, Diener was both an admired teacher and a gifted researcher. He earned numerous teaching awards, and his work has garnered more than 250,000 citations. His work also appeared in more than 400 publications, and he served as president of three scientific societies, was editor of three scientific journals, and the recipient of numerous major awards in the field of psychology. His passing drew messages of gratitude and grief from around the globe. “Ed Diener was a trailblazer in the study of happiness, and weare saddened by the passing of one of the fathers of Positive Psychology,” said Live Happy CEO and co-founder Deborah Heisz.“He inspired countless others through his research and teachings to study and implement strategies to improve human well-being. We at Live Happy are grateful beneficiaries of his legacy."
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