Monday, May 30, 2005

Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman

This book was cited in the bibliography of a few of the other health related books, and it was endorsed by Stephen Pinker (one of my literary heroes). If you read it, you might find it astonishing ;)

In a study of 178 nuns started in 1932, "90% of the most cheerful quartile was alive at age 85 vs. 34% of the least cheerful quartile. Similarly, 54% of the most cheerful was alive at age 94, as opposed to 11% of the least cheerful." p4

In a study of 141 senior class college photos, all but 3 women were smiling. Of these, only about 1/2 were exhibiting a true smile "Duchenne smile". "Astonishingly, 'Duchenne' women were more likely to be married, to stay married, and to experience more personal well being over the next 30 years. Those indicators of happiness were predicted by a mere crinkling of eyes." p5

An experiment on 682 colonscopy patients "were randomly assigned 1 extra minute at the end [of the colonscopy exam]... A stationary colonscope provides a less uncomfortable final minute that what went before, but it does add one extra minute of discomfort. The added minute means, that this group gets more total pain. But because their experience ends relatively well, however, their memory of the episode is much rosier, and they are more willing to undergo the procedure again." p7 So if you're going to do something painful to someone, make sure to end it on a happy note.

A Mayo Clinic study of 839 patients who took a routine psychological exam as well as phsyical tests including a test of optimism yielded the following "Of these patients 200 had died by 2000, and optimists had 19% greater longevity... living 19% longer is comparable to the longer lives of the happy nuns." p10

"Not all of us become helpless after being presented with insolvable problems or inescapable pain. 1 out 3 never gives up, no matter what we do. Moreover 1 out of 8 is helpless to begin with - it does not take any experience with uncontrollability at all to make them give up." p23

"Depressed students were very accurate, both when they had control and when they did not. The nondepressed were accurate when they had control, but even when they were helpless they still judged that they had 35% control [when they had none!]. The depressed people were sadder but wiser. " p33 The good news is you were right. The bad news is that you have no control and therefore you should be utterly depressed.

"Happy people remember more good events than actually happened, and they forget more of the bad events. Depressed people in contrast are accurate about both." p37 If you're a defense attorney, you should make sure to ask prospective witnesses if they're on prozac or not.

"Choose your venue and design your mood to fit the task at hand: tasks that require critical thinking - doing income taxes, studying for an exam, dealing with rejection, etc. should be carried out when you are uptight, sad or out of sorts; it will make your decisions more acute... In contrast, any number of life tasks that call for creative, generous and tolerant thinking should be carried out in a setting that will buoy your mood." p39

"After controlling for age, income, education, weight, smoking, drinking, and disease, researchers found that happy people were 1/2 as likely to die, and 1/2 as likely to become disabled. [based upon a study of 2282 people aged 65 or older]" p40

"Not only do happy people endure pain better and take more health and safety precautions when threatened, but positive emotions undo negative emotions... [In an experiment where subjects watched a film of a person dangling over a precipice, the actor loses his grip and nearly falls to his sure death] the heart rate of the subjects goes through the roof. Right after watching this, they are shown 1 of 4 further films: 'waves', which induce contentment; 'puppy' which induces amusement; 'sticks' which induces no emotion; 'cry' which induces sadness. 'Puppy' and 'wave' both bring the heart rate way down, while 'cry' makes the high heart rate go even higher." p41

"A systematic study of 22 people of won major lotteries found that they reverted to their baseline level of happiness over time, winding up no happier than 22 controls... Even individuals who became paraplegic quickly begin to adapt... within 8 weeks they report more net positive emotion than negative. Within a few years, they wind up only slightly less happy on average than controls. These findings fit the idea that we each have a personal set range for our level of positive/negative emotion, and this range may represent the inherited aspect of overall happiness." p48

"Good things and high achievements, studies have shown, have astonishingly little power to raise happiness more than transiently: In less than 3 months, major events (such as being fired/promoted) lose their impact on happiness levels; Rich people are, on average, only slightly happier than poor people; Physical attractiveness does not have much effect at all on happiness; Objective physical health [being in great shape w/o disease] is barely correlated with happiness." p49 Does 'What have you done for me lately?' ring a bell?

"If you want to lastingly raise your level of happiness by changing the external circumstances of your life, you should do the following in order:
1. Live in a wealthy democracy, not in an impoverished dictatorship (strong effect)
2. Get married (robust effect, but perhaps not casual)
3. Acquire a rich social network (robust effect, but perhaps not casual)
4. Avoid negative events and negative emotion (only a moderate effect)
5. Get religion (a moderate effect)
However you needn't bother to do the following:
1. Make more money
2. Stay healthy
3. Get as much education as possible
4. Change your race (ie. become white)
5. Move to a sunnier climate" p61

"255 medical students [from Duke] took a personality test that measured overt hostility. As physicians 25 years later, the angriest had roughly 5 times as much heart disease as the least angriest... In experimental studies, when male students bottle up their anger, blood pressure goes down, and it goes up if they decide to express their feelings... Time urgency, competitiveness, and the suppression of anger do not seem to play a role in Type A people getting more heart disease." p69 Don't blow your top, you goddamned $#%#)!!!! Or it will eventually kill you. Holding in your feelings is actually the better course no matter what your wife tells you.

"Try to find the optimal spacing that keeps habituation at bay... Take one mouthful of ice cream, then wait 30 seconds. If you no longer crave the second mouthful, throw it down the drain. If you still want it, have a second, but wait again before the third." p106 Yeah, right. I'd like to see any of you throw a perfectly good bowl of Haagen Daz down the drain.

"After 3 years of study, the novice monk arrives at the dwelling of the his teacher. He enters the room bursting with ideas about the knotty issues of Buddhist metaphysics, and well-prepared for the deep questions that await him in his examination.
'I have but one question' his teacher intones.
'I am ready, master' he replies.
'In the doorway, were the flowers to the left or to the right of teh umbrella?'
The novice retires, abashed, for 3 more years of study." p109 The section heading was Mindfulness.

"In a study of 250 high flow teenagers, and 250 low flow teenagers (low flow teenagers are 'mall' kids that hang out and watch lots of TV, high flow kids have hobbies, play sports, and spend time on homework), the high flow kids did better on every measure of psychological well-being save one: the high flow kids think their low flow peers are having more fun... Later in life, the high flow kids are the ones who make it to college, who have deeper social ties, and whose later lives are more successful." p117

"A Houston man earned a succint lesson in gun safety when be played Russian roulette with a .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol... [Can you see the problem here yet? I'll give you second to be mindful grasshopper.]
He apparently did not realize that a semiautomatic pistol, unlike a revolver, automatically always inserts a cartridge into the firing chamber when the gun is cocked. His chance of winning a round of Russian roulette was zero, as he quickly discoverd." p139 What do you expect? He was from Houston.

"When adjusted for sociodemographics, lawyers suffer depression at a rate 360% higher than employed persons generally. Lawyers also suffer from alcoholism and illegal drug use at rates far higher than non-lawyers. The divorce rate among lawyers, especially women, is higher than among other professionals." p177 Have you hugged your lawyer today? You really should.

"Children who live with both biological parents repeat grades at only 1/3 the rate of children in other parenting arrangements, and they are treated for emotional disorders at 1/4 the rate." p188

"Optimism helps marriage. When your partner does something that displeases you, try hard to find a credible temporary and local explanation for it: 'He's tired','He had a hangover' as opposed to 'He's a grouch', 'He's an alcoholic'. When your spouse does something admirable, amplify it with plausible explanations that are permanent: 'She's brilliant' as opposed to 'What a lucky day she had'." p202

"Punishment, making an undesirable event contingent on an unwanted action, turns out to be highly effective in eliminating unwanted behavior, and literally 100s of experiments now demonstrate this... Punishment fails frequently because the safety and danger signals are often unclear to the child. Make sure he knows exactly what action he is being punished for." p220

"Having chores as a child is one of the only early predictors of positive mental health later in life [from Harvard cohort studies I outlined in Vaillant's book]" p225 So saddle those kids with chores, and punish them when they don't do them. They'll thank you later in life. Plus you have science on your side.


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