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    Internal Choices


     

    Happiness experts Greg Hicks and Rick Foster, faculty members at the University of California at Berkeley, have developed a 9-point model for happiness, and collaborated with Stanford-based researchers to create the following articles. The FosterHicks model was developed after their acclaimed worldwide journey to study happy people and is made up of nine essential behaviors that are associated with physical health and wellbeing. Studies indicate that we get positive biochemical rewards from all nine behaviors.


    GRATITUDE

    Gratitude is a quality revered in many cultures. There are even countries that celebrate gratitude with holidays, such as the United States and Liberia. Gratitude is the recognition of receiving undue value.[1] Analyzing the effect of a grateful perspective, an ungrateful perspective, and the expression of gratitude demonstrates that gratitude is linked to well-being.

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    A grateful perspective

    Incorporating gratitude into one’s perspective improves well-being. In one study on having a grateful perspective, people who focused on being grateful for positive events rated life more favorably and had brighter expectations for the future than people who focused on neutral or negative events.[2] Individuals in the gratitude group also had better emotional returns, having higher ratings for joy and happiness.[3] Additionally, individuals who focused on positive events exercised more than individuals who focused on neutral or negative events. Gratitude-focused individuals also experienced less physical illness.[4] Finally, people in the gratitude condition were more likely to offer social support to other people.[5] A gratitude-focused perspective leads to improvements in multiple areas of well-being.

    The negative effects of ungratefulness 

    On the flipside, an ungrateful perspective is linked to diminished well-being.[6] In one study, participants were given a questionnaire about materialism, well-being, gratitude, and experiential avoidance, amongst other characteristics.[7] Another questionnaire determined participants’ feelings of gratitude by having them rate how much they agreed with statements such as “I have so much in life to be thankful for.” Materialism, which was defined as the preoccupation with materialistic values that influenced the individual’s life, was positively correlated with negative emotions, and it was negatively correlated with “relatedness, competence, autonomy, gratitude, and meaning of life.”[8] This indicates that ungratefulness has a negative impact on well-being.

    The importance of expressing gratitude

    Like a gratitude-based perspective, the expression of gratitude through writing is linked to well-being.[9] In one study, participants hand wrote and mailed three letters that expressed gratitude over a period of eight weeks.[10] Compared to individuals who did not write letters expressing gratitude, the letter writers had higher ratings of happiness and gratitude.[11] This indicates that expressing gratitude, like having a grateful perspective, is important for well-being. A practical application of this research is that individuals can improve their well-being by writing letters that express gratitude.

    Conclusion

    Gratitude is an important component of well-being. Individuals can improve their well-being by taking time each week to focus on what they are thankful for. They can enhance their well-being by having a grateful perspective. Finally, individuals can increase their levels of happiness and gratitude by actively expressing their gratitude through writing letters.

     Contributed by Matt Narlesky


     

    Bibliography

    • [1] Emmons, Robert A., and Michael E. McCullough. "Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84.2 (2003): 377-389. Web.
    • [2] Ibid.
    • [3] Ibid.
    • [4] Ibid.
    • [5] Ibid.
    • [6] Kashdan, Todd B., and William E. Breen. "Materialism and Diminished Well-Being: Experiential Avoidance As A Mediating Mechanism." Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 26.5 (2007): 521-39. Generally Thinking. Web. 29 Apr. 2012.
    • [7] Ibid. 
    • [8] Ibid. 
    • [9] Ibid. 
    • [10] Toepfer, Steven M., and Kathleen Walker. "Letters of Gratitude: Improving Well-Being Through Expressive Writing." Journal of writing research 1.3 (2009): 181-198. Journal of Writing Research. Web. 3 May 2012. 
    • [11] Ibid.

     


    RECASTING

    Stressful events have a profound impact on human health, affecting both the cardiovascular system and the nervous system. There are many coping methods used to counter these physiological reactions, with varying levels of effectiveness. Recasting is an approach to dealing with negative events where an individual uses the negative emotions to find meaning, opportunity, and action.[1] Unlike reframing, which is a method where negative events are viewed optimistically, recasting allows the individual to maintain a realistic grasp of his or her emotions and situation.[2] Analyzing the benefits and application of recasting demonstrates how it can improve well-being.

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    Benefits of Recasting

    Coping is the attempt at managing psychological stress cognitively and behaviorally. There are two basic coping strategies. One is the problem-focused strategy, in which an individual seeks to change the situation by acting on the environment.[4] Some studies have indicated that if the situation cannot be changed the problem-focused approach can be counterproductive, actually increasing stress.[5]

    In the other strategy, emotion-focused coping, the individual alters the way he or she attends to the stressful situation, such as viewing the stressful situation differently.[6] This strategy reduces the individual’s stress level even if the situation has not changed. A study which employed a questionnaire to measure the effectiveness of different coping strategies following stressful situations showed that positive reappraisal, an emotion-focused strategy, was the most effective coping method, while avoidance was the least effective.[7]

    Unfortunately, positive reappraisal is not without its shortcomings, and Pollyanna thinking, the interpreting of inherently negative events as positive, can result in frustration to someone experiencing grief.[8] Recasting, however, allows the individual to believe trials, although painful, can be meaningful.[9] Recasting accepts the nature of trauma or illness and derives opportunities for action from it, resulting in improved well-being.

    Recasting in Response to Illness

    The effects of different coping methods were investigated in elderly people experiencing vision loss.[10] The coping methods studied were assimilative coping, where activities are adjusted to meet goals, and accommodative coping, where goals are adjusted.[11] The study sought to shed light on the depression experienced by approximately one-third of elderly adults who are visually impaired.[12] The study used questionnaires to measure the effect of coping methods on social function and depressive symptoms.

    The effectiveness of recasting can be inferred from the study’s demonstration that accommodative coping mediates depressive symptoms.[13]The more participants employed coping methods the less mental health problems they faced.[14] The study showed that coping methods are an effective way to improve well-being following a traumatic event.[15]

    Applying Recasting

    The process of recasting consists of three phases. The first phase involves identifying the emotions surrounding the traumatic event.[16]Emotions allow humans to make sense of their response to trauma quickly. An individual should analyze his or her emotions to find a primary emotion, such as sadness, anger, fear, or joy; emotions outside the primary emotions are subsets and are irrelevant distractions.[17]

    The second phase is finding meaning in the traumatic event. To do this, one asks questions, such as, “What can I learn from all of this?”[18]By searching for meaning, the individual allows his or herself to gain insight, information, and understanding, which leads to personal growth. There are also physical benefits to this step because the process keeps the brain functioning at a high level.[19]

    The third and final step is recognizing opportunities.[20]An individual must evaluate his or her emotions and meaning and determine what opportunities are available. The goal is to move forward from the experience with a new future. This also enables the individual to stop feeling victimized by the traumatic circumstance.[21]Without recasting, the individual will repeat the experience and be bound by his or her emotions.

    Conclusion

    Recasting is an important way of improving well-being during the aftermath of unpleasant situations. Although there are many coping methods, recasting is one of the most effective methods because it gives the individual a realistic grasp of the situation and prevents the development of frustration. Recasting can be accomplished by investigating emotion, finding meaning, and pursuing opportunities. By recasting, an individual can move forward from a negative situation with something positive.

     Contributed by Matt Narlesky


     

    Bibliography

    • [1]  Foster, Rick, and Greg Hicks. "Recasting." Happiness & Health. New York: Penguin Group, 2008. 111-134. Print.
    • [2] Ibid.
    • [3] Richard, Lazarus. "Coping Theory and Research: Past, Present, and Future." Psychomatic Medicine 55 (1993): 234-247. Emotional Competency. Web. 12 July 2012.
    • [4] Ibid.
    • [5] Ibid.
    • [6] Ibid.
    • [7] Ibid.
    • [8] Foster, Rick, and Greg Hicks. "Recasting." Happiness & Health. New York: Penguin Group, 2008. 111-134. Print.
    • [9] Boerner, Kathrin. "Adaptation to disability among middle-aged and older adults: The role of assimilative and accommodative coping." Social Science 59.1 (2004): 35-42. PubMed. Web. 25 June 2012.
    • [10] Ibid.
    • [11] Ibid.
    • [12] Ibid.
    • [13] Ibid.
    • [14] Ibid.
    • [15] Ibid.
    • [16] Foster, Rick, and Greg Hicks. "Recasting." Happiness & Health. New York: Penguin Group, 2008. 111-134. Print.
    • [17] Ibid.
    • [18] Ibid.
    • [19] Ibid.
    • [20] Ibid.
    • [21] Ibid.

     

    Intention

    Intention is a conscious choice toward a thought, emotion, or behavior.1 Approaching situations with intention brings a feeling of internal control and a sense of well-being because the individual is creating a message about what he or she wants out of a situation.2 It goes hand-in-hand with the old adage: “You can’t choose your circumstances, but you can choose your attitudes and reactions.”3 Analyzing the effects of intention on the brain and situational outcomes demonstrates the link between intention and well-being.

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    The physiological effects of intention

    Humanity’s consciousness and ability to analyze allows more control over the communications that occur within the brain compared to other organisms.The brain, even in adults, is capable of being “rewired,” a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity. Intention capitalizes on this by using conscious thought to structurally alter the brain in a way that is more conducive to desired outcomes. One study examined neuroplasticity by studying the change in the brain following the learning of a new task. In the study, participants with no juggling experience learned how to do a three-ball cascade.5 After just seven days of learning the task, MRIs showed an increase in gray matter, which is the portion of the brain made of neural cell bodies, in the occipito-temporal cortex, an area of the brain responsible for motion processing.6 These results emphasize the dramatic ways in which the brain can physiologically change in adults following a conscious effort.

    The benefits of intentions 

    Approaching situations with defined intentions can result in better outcomes, including improved health and well-being.7 For instance, a study involving young students wishing to improve their physical activity investigated the effect of intention on their success. Compared to action planning and coping planning, intention was the greatest predictor of the participants’ success in reaching their fitness goals.8 The findings provide evidence for the notion that intention partially mediates success in goal-oriented pursuits.

    How to implement intention

    Harnessing the power of intention requires a three-pronged approach. 10 The first aspect of intention entails employing in-the-moment intentions, which help the individual zone in on specific situations. To do this, one must ask three questions:  “What’s my attitude or behavior right now?”, “Is this the most beneficial attitude or behavior?”, and “Is there a more beneficial attitude or behavior I can choose?”11 The next kind of intentions are daily intentions, which help the individual set the course for the day. This is done by committing to an intention in the morning, such as deciding to be positive throughout the day.12 Finally, there are core intentions, which determine who someone is as an individual; taking advantage of this entails articulating someone’s core traits and desires, such as committing to be a grateful person.13

    Conclusion

    Approaching a situation with intention results in improved outcomes, such as increased well-being. Intention capitalizes on neuroplasticity, changing the brain physiologically so that neural pathways are more conducive to the intended outcome. Intention is effective in changing behavior, as demonstrated by the study on youth seeking to participate in more physical activity. Employing intention entails determining in advance what one wishes to accomplish.

     Contributed by Matt Narlesky


     

    Bibliography

    [1] Foster, Rick, and Greg Hicks. "Recasting." Happiness & Health. New York: Penguin Group.

    [2]

    [3]

    [4]

    [5] Driemeyer, Joenna, Janina Boyke, Christian Gaser, Christian Büchel, and Arne May. "Changes in Gray Matter Induced by Learning—Revisited." PLoS ONE 3 (2008): n. pag. PubMed. Web. 12 Jan. 2013.

    [6] Ibid. 

    [7] Araújo-Soares, Vera, Teresa McIntyre, and Falko F. Sniehotta. " Predicting changes in physical activity among adolescents: the role of self-efficacy, intention, action planning and coping planning ." Oxford Journal 24 (2008): n. pag. Oxford Journals. Web. 13 Jan. 2007.

    [8] Ibid.

    [9] Ibid.

    [10] Foster, Rick, and Greg Hicks. "Recasting." Happiness & Health. New York: Penguin Group.

    [11] Ibid.

    [12] Ibid.

    [13] Ibid.

     

    options

    The ability to pursue multiple options is often viewed as desirable, and recently, research has uncovered that flexible thinking has an array of benefits.1 Scientists have linked flexible thinking and exploring options with a better-functioning brain and improved health.2 In contrast, a lack of options is associated with negative effects on health.3 Analyzing the effects and applications of having options demonstrates that the practice has a positive effect on well-being.

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    The benefits of options

    Having options has beneficial effects physically. A number of studies demonstrate exploring options leads to well-being and optimism.4 Optimism itself has a number of positive effects. For instance, one study has shown that optimistic patients resume activities more quickly after surgery.5 Additionally, studies have shown optimistic people have coronary arteries more resistant to developing harmful thickenings.6

    Pursuing options also has positive psychological effects. For instance, with terminal patients, having options has been linked with hope, which is associated in effective coping with illness.7 Terminal patients should seek options in areas where they can make a realistic difference, such as averting further suffering. Patients can experience psychological benefits, even during their close proximity with death, by finding options that create hope. 8

    The effects of a lack of options

    Not having options is damaging to health.9 One experiment explored the effects of a lack of options by exposing dogs to inescapable shocks in a variety of conditions. Dogs that were repeatedly exposed to shocks that were unavoidable learned to accept shocks as part of their existence, and they did not take the opportunity to avoid the shocks when later give the option.10 This phenomenon is known as learned helplessness because the dogs’ situation taught them to remain a victim even when other options were available. 11

    This phenomenon is also seen in humans, especially those who have experienced traumatic events. One study explored learned helplessness in college students. The experiment compared groups of students who were depressed and anxious, non-depressed and anxious, and non-depressed and non-anxious.12 The study showed depressed subjects misperceived the outcomes of their responses as being unrelated to their responses.13 This suggests that those who do not believe they have options suffer psychologically.

    How to have “options”

    One of the most important ways to have options is to remove self-limiting beliefs.14 Self-limiting beliefs typically show up when someone is going to experience something new and are often accompanied by doubts about his or her ability to succeed.15 By removing these beliefs and statements, an individual opens doors for new experiences.

    Individuals often avoid having options by staying in situations they are comfortable with.16 Fears that compel people to play it safe close the door on having options.17 Individuals pursuing options should not wait until they have a near-death experience to pursue everything life has to offer them. They should consistently pursue an array of opportunities and cast off the burden of fears that keep doors shut.

    Conclusion

    Having options results in a number of benefits, while not having options has a negative impact. In dogs, not having options leads to learned helplessness, where the animals feel their destiny is beyond their control. Humans also experience learned helplessness, which is linked with depression. In contrast, having options can improve health physically and mentally. Creating options in one’s life entails removing self-limiting beliefs and stepping out of one’s comfort zone.

     Contributed by Matt Narlesky


     

    Bibliography

    [1] Foster, Rick, and Greg Hicks. "Recasting." Happiness & Health. New York: Penguin Group, 2008. 135-153. Print.

    [2] Ibid.

    [3] Ibid.

    [4] Ibid.

    [5] Ibid.

    [6] Ibid.

    [7] Ibid.

    [8]

    [8] Overmier, J. Bruce, and Martin E. Seligman. "Effects of Inescapable Shock Upon Subsequent Escape and Avoidance Responding ." Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology 63 (1967): 28-33.

    [9] Ibid.

    [10] Ibid.

    [11] Miller, WR, ME Seligman, and HM Kurlander. "Learned helplessness, depression, and anxiety." J. Nerv Ment Dis 161 (1975): 347-57.

     [12] Ibid.

    [13] Ibid.

    [14] Ibid.

    [15] Ibid.

    [16] Ibid.

    [17] Ibid.

     

     

    gratitude with holidays, such as t
     

    Contact Happiness Project

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    Maia Mosse mmosse@stanford.edu

     

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